Sunday, June 2, 2019

WCRI 2019 - Day 0

Day 0 - Day 1a - Day 1b - Day 2 - Day 3

I am currently attending the World Conference on Academic Integrity (WCRI 2019) in Hong Kong, sponsored by a travel grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). It is quite an international conference with over 700 attendees from all over the world, although of course given the location there are many Asia-Pacific countries represented. I will be blogging about the talks and workshops that I attend, which are only a small fraction of the talks held, as there are seven tracks in parallel. As usual, there is one paper in each track that I really want to hear, so I will have to flip three coins to see which session I attend.
The conference is being held at the University of Hong Kong, a large university of high-rises, terraces, and steep stairways nestled in between the skyscrapers of Western Hong Kong.

I attended two pre-conference workshops before the opening ceremonies.

1. How to investigate breaches of research integrity and research misconduct

The workshop was designed by Daniel Barr (RMIT Melbourne, Australia), Ton Hol (University of Utrecht) and Paul Taylor(†, formerly of RMIT) and there were around 50 participants. Three talks were held and there was some discussion.
In his introduction, Dan Barr proposed this definition of research integrity:
Research integrity is the coherent and consistent adherence to a set of principles that underpin the trustworthiness of research.
He noted that people are not consistent – they might behave well one month, and use questionable practices the next month. From this I take it that the focus should be on the research and thus the publication or non-publication itself, not on the person.

Ton Hall, head of the School of Law at the University of Utrecht, then spoke on handling allegations of research misconduct in the Netherlands. The Diederik Stapel case appears to have been quite a force in getting Dutch universities to focus on both preventing research misconduct as well as formalizing the investigative process.

He first looked into the reasons why an institution needs to deal with accusations of research misconduct. Above all, the public's trust in science should not be affected by faulty research. There are other reasons of course, not only giving satisfaction to the accuser, but also to protect the reputation of the institution and of the accused researcher, and of course to improve the local research practices. He then explained the difference between an accusatorial or an inquisitorial approach. That means, an institution can either respond to an allegation, or it can start investigations on its own.

He noted that complaints from anonymous accusers can be investigated if there are compelling public insterests or the factual basis can be investigated without additional input from the complaintant (for example in documented plagiarism cases).

Jillian Barr, Director Ethics and Integrity National Health and Medical Reserach Council Australian Government, then gave the view on investigating breaches from the view of an Australian funding agency. In 2018, Australia published a code of Responsible Conduct in Research. There are many additional guides published, among them one on investigating potential breaches of the code.

One of the most important aspects in convening a panel for investigating potential breaches is deciding who should be on the panel, as there are potential consequences for those involved. Which members of the department or other departments should be incuded, should there be external members, should they have prior experience with dealing with such issues, how well do they need to know the code, do they have to understand the relevant discipline, are there conflicts of interest or gender / diversity issues to be addressed? And of course, who should chair such a panel, someone with legal experience? Many questions and no easy answers.

Karin Wallace, from the Secretariat for the Responsible Conduct of Research in Canada, was up next. The body she represents sees plagiarism as one of the largest problems, as well as misrepresentation of credentials. However, each case is unique, so it is not easy to set up guidelines for sanctioning.

Investigation reports do not have names on them, so that the focus for the investigation committee is on the facts of the case, not the institution or person involved. She suggests having a standing investigation committee that is familiar with research integrity, with subject matter expertise filled in on an ad hoc basis. She cautions that external members should be familiar with research integrity procedures and be in close proximity, in order to facilitate their participation.

Finally, Chris Graf, from COPE and the Director of Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics at Wiley, gave us the point of view of the publisher in dealing with breaches of integrity. Wiley, a large scientific publisher, has a number of people working full-time on this topic. 

He noted that research publishers create and maintain the formal "version of record". When an error is identified, corrections are restricted to an equally formal set of permanent options: Corrections, experessions of concern, retractions, withdrawals. The latter is what he calls the "nuclear option" to be used when a paper must be deleted for legal reasons or other serious circumstances, however, the formal bibliographic information is left at the DOI. 

He presented some interesting numbers of the various types of case they handled in 2018 and 2019 to date:
58 Misconduct or Questionable behavior
45 Authorship
43 Data issues
34 Redundant or Duplicate publications
33 Plagiarism
30 Copyright
30 Correction of the literature
26 Legal issues
22 Consent for Publication
20 Questionable or Unethical Research
19 Mistakes
13 Conflicts of Interest
6 Peer review
5 Whistleblowers
5 Funding
4 Contributorship
3 Social Media
2 Editorial Independence
2. Workhop on "The Embassy of Good Science"

Guy Wissershoven opened the session by briefly explaining the project and the web site, which is not yet online. It seemed that about half of the room (also around 50 persons in attendance) was somehow involved in the project, I am not sure but it seemed to be funded by the EU. 

I found a short description on the web:
‘The Embassy of Good Science’ is a European initiative to make the normative framework informing research ethics and research integrity (RE+RI) easily accessible, share RE+RI knowledge and experiences, and foster active participation of the scientific community.
The development of The Embassy platform is underpinned by a stakeholder consultation, which consisted of a series of focus groups in three EU countries with diverse levels of research and innovation (The Netherlands, Spain and Croatia, n=59) and an online community discussion with participants from across Europe and beyond (n=52). Participants included researchers, editors, RE or RI committee members, policy-makers, and funders.
It is an excellent idea to collect up the information about research ethics and research integrity, as well as the various guidelines that exist into some sort of easy-to-use repository. I was intrigued by the idea that they want to provide a forum for discussion about cases and issues relating to research activity, but there was just a rudimentary implementation of tools to facilitate the discussion and no clear concept of how they will attract and retain interested persons to the discussions.

The project will be continuing until 2021, so I do hope that they acquire some deeper understanding of how to cultivate an active community.

Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony in the Grand Hall that looks like it easily seats 1000 people included the usual words of greetings. Then there were two talks given.

Guoqing Dai (Director-General of the Department of Supervision and Scientific Integrity, Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of the People's Republic of China, Beijing) spoke about his department, founded in 2018, and tasked with setting up concerted efforts for coping with new challenges for research integrity that have been identified in China. Multiple measures will be undertaken in China to promote research integrity:
  1. Constantly improve the institutional arrangements
  2. Trying to establish sound operational mechanisms
  3. Strictly investigating and punishing breach behaviors (497 researchers were punished last year)
  4. Strengthening the dissemination and education about research integrity (16 million students recieved instruction last year)
  5. Deepening the reform of science and technology evaluation.
Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist, from Canberra, used a funny metaphor to describe the current scientific publication process with four million articles published every year: A bridge. What used to be perhaps a simple structure to connect A with B (the scientist with the reader) is now a triple-decker, multi-lane freeway. It's not about to collapse, but showing many signs of stress. The publication bridge must be kept open, but there are currently too many trucks with wrong cargo or contraband (there are over 20.000 retractions in the Retraction Watch database), or with useless cargo that no one wants. Some drivers speed madly in order to make as many trips as possible. There are smugglers (predatory publishers) and researchers jumping off the bridge into the wild waters of open science. 

He identified the biggest problem as the incentives. Systems adapt to follow the incentives, so the incentive system in academia must move away from counting publications and look to quality.  As an engineer he proposed a quality assurance initiative that includes mandatory research integrity training for all researchers (not just new ones) and some version of the Rule of Five (maximum of x publications in the last y years for values of x and y close to 5). There should be a "Publication Process Quality Assurance" seal that is positively awarded to journals, and grant-giving institutions should insist on publications only in these journals.

After this well-recieved talk, a Chinese "Lion's Dance" was presented, and then we were treated to some appetizers and a drink. It was lovely to meet old acquaintences and meet new people active in the field.

Updated 2019-06-03 to include Karin Wallace's institution

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