Monday, May 29, 2017

WCRI 2017, Day 1

                                                                                                                    Day 2
After the wonderful conference in Brno about plagiarism (days 1 - 2 - 3) I am now attending the 5th World Conference on Research Integrity 2017 at the Free University (VU) in Amsterdam. Today there were 9 pre-conference workshops and the opening session. I attended two half-day workshops, the opening session, and the reception. I will try to blog all of the sessions I attend, although so many interesting talks are in parallel - there are 5 parallel sessions, and they are necessary as there are over 800 people attending!

Workshop 6: How to investigate allegations of research misconductSession facilitators Paul Taylor (RMIT, Melbourne) & Daniel Barr (Deakin University)

Since I am often the person at VroniPlag Wiki who informs institutions of cases of research misconduct, I was very curious to hear from the other side what processes they (should) follow.

The first important point was understanding that because research is done by humans, there will be errors. There are also pressures that can cause some humans to respond in ways that others do not find acceptable. There was some discussion about what exactly is meant by "research misconduct" and if one should perhaps speak of "breach of research integrity" in order to move away from personal accusations towards a focus on the scientific record. If there are errors there, they must be corrected, preferably in a timely manner.

I found the questions asked of the institutions about their environment to be excellent:

    •    Is there a clear and available policy or process?
    •    Are there independent sources of advice?
    •    Are the right people providing this advice?
    •    Is there one place that receives complaints?
    •    Does the process include reporting back or publicly announcing the results?

I have often struggled to find the processes of various institutions, in particular the place to address my concerns. I also find that many institutions do not report back to me what they have decided, and more problematically, don't necessarily do anything to correct the scientific record because of legal issues.

It was clear that it is not easy to come up with policy and process that can cover every case - they are all so different. But splitting an investigation into two phases seems to be quite common. In the first phase, there is a preliminary assessment made: Does the complaint appear to have merit? Is it in our jurisdiction? If so, then there is sometimes a determination made if this complaint is made in good faith, or if it appears to be vexatious (a new adjective I learned today that totally fits the situation of A trying to point out errors in B's work, who is his bitter rival, or C raising a complaint for the 10th time with no new evidence). If an investigation is warranted, a report that includes all the evidence gathered up until now should be prepared. There are not necessarily hearings held at this point.  

Susan Zimmermann and Karen Wallace, from Canadian Secretariat on Responsible Conduct of Research (representing the three major funding agencies in Canada) gave a presentation and led the discussion on conducting the investigation. In a nutshell, this process is as follows:

    1.    Choose the right people to conduct the investigation
    2.    Gather relevant information
    3.    Make a finding
    4.    Prepare a report

One interesting point was that in Canada, in order to apply for funding from any of these three organizations, a researcher must agree that if found to have committed serious misconduct in such an investigation, he or she agrees that their personal information (name, type of misconduct, etc.) may be provided to the public. After all, they pay for this with their taxes. This makes it legal to publish names and findings.

Jillian Barr and Belinda Westmann from NHMRC (the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council) spoke about implementing the outcomes (a much better word than sanctions or punishments). In Australia there are funding agreements between NHMRC and the institutions receiving the funding as to how they must conduct investigations and how they implement outcomes and report back to the funding agency. In particular, if it had been determined that a publication is to be retracted, they want to see the retraction. If institutions do not cooperate, they lose the right to apply for funds.

There were many interesting topics touched on, and many interesting cases briefly mentioned.

After lunch I attended
Workshop 7: Teaching and training in RE/RI: The relevance of Moral Case Deliberation

Since I often write ethical case studies in computer science for a German-language computer science journal (the case studies are also published online at Gewissensbits), I wanted to hear more about this method of dealing with case studies.

The workshop was led by Guy Wissershoven, Fenneke Blom, & Giulia Inguaggiato,  from the Department of Medical Humanties at the VU Amsterdam. Guy and colleagues have developed a structured method of deliberating cases that involve dilemmata, in particular those encountered in clinical practice, especially in neonatology. There are a number of publications about this, for example Suzanne Metselaar, Bert Molewijk & Guy Widdershoven, Beyond Recommendation and Mediation: Moral Case Deliberation as Moral Learning in Dialogue in The American Journal of Bioethics.

This structured method of discussing a case with a group of people helps find a solution, as people tend to branch off onto other topics, or assume a know-it-all stance in suggesting solutions right away. The steps keep one focused on the dilemma at hand with its possible resolutions. It involves 7 steps:
  1. Case presentation
  2. Formulating the dilemma, the potential actions, and the harms that each action would incurr
  3. Asking questions for elucidation
  4. Analysing from various perspectives the values and norms involved (for example, for the value "respecting older people" there is the norm "I give my seat in a crowded bus to an older person who enters the bus")
  5. Individual judgements by each of the participants
  6. Dialogue about the judgements and potential repair mechanisms for the harms
  7. Evaluation of discussion
First, Guy presented such a case to the group of 20 persons at the workshop. Then we were split into two groups, and each group worked on one real dilemma. We promised to keep the dilemmata confidential, but there were quite lively discussions in both of the groups - it was hard to quit and gather back for some time of reflection!

Opening session

Lex Bouter from the VU (with his co-chairs Tony Mayer and Nick Steneck) opened the conference, welcoming over 800 participants from 52 countries.

The rector of the VU, Vinod Subramaniam, welcomed us and touched on many issues a university has to deal with today. It was good to see someone from the leadership of a university with so much understanding of the issues and that there are no easy answers to the problems. He noted that the Netherlands Code of Conduct for researchers is currently undergoing revision and should be published by 2018. The version from 2004 was last updated in 2012.

José van Dijck,  the president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, gave a short talk about monitoring the research process. She formulated the motto "In Researchers we Trust (that is why we welcome everyone to monitor)".

The session closed with a play by Het Acteurgenootschap/Pandemonia: The ConScience App, a play about scientific integrity. It was long, but it sure packed a punch. There were so many issues about scientific integrity compressed into these few scenes. I spoke with the actors afterwards, they have spent over 2 years touring with this piece, in Dutch and in English, and speaking to audiences about it afterwards. A great way to get a discussion on this subject going, I think!

Then we had earned our Dutch specialties, cheese and bitterballs and herring and Jenever. I didn't manage to find the stroopwafels, more's the pity. It was wonderful stumbling onto people I've corresponded with over the years, and seeing some people again I haven't seen for a while. I had a nice chat walking back to the hotel, and since it was such a warm evening, many of us stood outside the hotel talking some more. I'm really looking forward to days 2-4, I hope I can keep up blogging!

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