Ethical conduct in science
Payam Rezaie, Wednesday 24 March, 10.30-11.30am, Workshop 4D, CMR15
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14 March 2010
Wednesday 24 March, 10.30-11.30am
Central Meeting Room 15
This workshop examines the general principles of ethical conduct in science, the need for scientific ethics, the basis for the rules of conduct and ethical standards, and how these may conflict. The responsibilities of the researcher, their institution, grant funding agencies and scientific journals in ensuring the integrity of the scientific process, will be highlighted, and a distinction made between what does and does not constitute scientific misconduct. The workshop is based on the OU STM895 (Postgraduate Research Skills in Science, Technology, Maths and Computing) course units on (i) 'Ethical Conduct in Science' and (ii) 'Intellectual Property, Copyright Issues ('Rights') and Responsibilities in Research', written by the facilitator. Copies will be available on the day.
Payam Rezaie is a Reader in Neuropathology in the Department of Life Sciences at the Open University. He studied Physiology at King’s College London, and completed a Masters degree in Neuroscience and a PhD in Neuropathology and Neuroimmunology at the Institute of Psychiatry (London). He has held an honorary academic appointment at the Institute since 2001, and contributed significantly to postgraduate teaching at both the Institute of Psychiatry and the Open University, including seminars and course materials covering a wide aspect of topics from Neuroscience and Postgraduate Research Skills to Ethics and Intellectual Property. Dr Rezaie’s research interests and expertise lie in clinical and experimental neuropathology and in developmental neurobiology, with a number of ongoing international research collaborations. His current research centres on the following key areas: (i) understanding the neurobiology of autism, (ii) determining the origin and cell lineage of microglia, (iii) characterising neurogenic stem cells in normal human brain development and in neurodegenerative disorders, and (iv) examining the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. His studies into the neurobiology of autism have been funded by Autism Speaks (USA).
Payam Rezaie (Session 4D)
Ethical Conduct in Science (Wednesday, 24th March, 2010; 10:30 am)
Smallish group here, just about 5 students. Thought there will be more science students along for some reason.
Payam is asking whether all the students are all from science – and they are.
The workshop is based on STM895 – he is explaining that STM895 is all good for your transferable skills.
Payam is explaining that there are set rules that you need to follow in an institution where you are undertaking postgraduate studies and research – and he says that in the past, generally ‘ethical conduct’ (the do’s and don’ts) has been picked up along the way as part of a student’s study and later academic career, but the topic has not necessarily been explained or discussed with students explicitly.
He is going to talk about the Ethical Conduct in Science block, and some of the topics covered in the Intellectual Copyright (Rights) and Responsibilities Block in STM895
Learning Outcomes of the Session
He is stating the learning outcomes:
- General principles of ethical conduct
- Rules of conduct and ethical standards
- Necessity for ethical principles
- Responsibilities of the researcher, their institution, funding agencies and peer review
- What constitutes scientific misconduct
- Ethical and legal issues in the use of human and animal subjects
Purpose of Academic Science
He is asking a general question on what is the purpose of academic science to the students (as opposed to military science). Some of the students are saying to further knowledge, to get a salary, to create an impact and for quality of life. Payam is saying we now have to poke into the human aspect.
Payam is saying generally the purpose is to contribute towards the betterment and welfare of mankind and the world we inhabit and indicates that knowledge brings with it responsibility.
He is asking what are the general principles of science or its impact. One of the students is talking about the discovery of the atom and saying that sometimes it is discovery that makes people’s lives worse but can also be used to help humans.
Payam is saying it is therefore not a one-sided coin (atomic bomb versus nuclear energy):
- Science and technology impact on society
- Affect our day to day lives
- Have the potential for misuse and causing harm e.g. plastics raising oestrogen levels in river water
Scientists and scientific practices need to be monitored or regulated, and we need to understand their impacts on society and nature.
What scientists should be mindful of?
Payam is asking the students what should scientists be mindful of? He is asking when do we start thinking of these things?
- Not act in ways that cause needless injury or harm to others
- Act in way that promote the welfare of humanity
- Consult on equal, fair-minded rational and objective (unbiased terms) – he notes sometimes difficult for objective terms
- Uphold the fundamental tenets of integrity in the pursuit of scientific enquiry
- Adhere to a system of rules (scientific codes of conduct) – set down by institutions, enforced through legislation
Ethical Principles: Responsibility, Accountability and Conduct
- Conduct – he is asking what does he mean by conduct? A student is replying behaviour. Payam is asking within the confines of science how do you define conduct. One student said experiments. Payam says there are two aspects the person who conducts the experiment and the experiment itself i.e. method and process. This includes:
- Experimentation, testing, education, analysis, storage and dissemination of data, sources of funding, peer review and so forth
- Moral and ethical responsibilities require the honest pursuit of scientific research which is the ability to obtain knowledge and validate and confirm findings through reproducing research methods, evaluate existing knowledge critically and explore new avenues of discovery. You need to be honest, careful, open, and exercise intellectual freedom, give credit and acknowledgement and aware of your public responsibility.
- Honesty: do not commit fraud (do not make-up, omit or destroy data) – he is saying that there are consequences for this and some mid-level career and even senior scientists have been caught falsifying or misrepresenting data (some examples to follow)
- Carefulness: avoid careless errors in scientific work such as in the presentation of data
- Openness: be willing to share data etc. once it has been validated, for constructive criticism. Colleagues may request to see your data files – this may help broaden collaboration
- Intellectual Freedom – to explore new ideas and criticise existing ones. This has implications for the peer-review process. This has to be objective rather than subjective i.e. can’t be ‘because I don’t like the investigator’ – but it sometimes still happens
- Credit and acknowledgement: Give credit where credit is due. Do not plagiarise (suggests checking out the library site).
- Public responsibility: report research in the public media when it has been validated by scientific peers but only when it is important or has direct bearing on the advancement of knowledge. He is saying this is important as it needs to be validated as public trust would be eroded if it is not validated.
Other general ethical principles (check with your supervisor he suggests):
- Public policy
- Forms of harassment
One student is asking about making the data available for example with the climate change. The student is saying that the scientists were not playing by the rules. He is asking what you do when the people don’t play by the rules.
Payam is saying where ever these scientists are working in an institution, and if such allegations are evidence-based, there will be a conduct inquiry into these allegations. Payam is saying that there is not as yet a global organisation that regulates conduct in science but there is progress being made towards this, so in this particular situation there may be conflict of interests including political ones. Conflict may occur between countries, institutions and individual’s beliefs – this is how the allegiance lies and it is not all black and white. We live in a society and the society governs what we do. Scientific practice and integrity of the researcher and the method of process of scientific enquiry foster mutual trust and respect among scientists.
Fostering mutual practice with the public is what drives the research – the public will fund your work to continue – directly or indirectly i.e. through taxes, government bodies/councils and charities.
Scientists are not infallible, and if there are mistakes you will be accountable – you’ll be forgiven if the errors are genuine and honest and admit to these, but not necessarily forgotten!
Moral dilemmas: ethical principles and values conflict i.e. for example a member of an animal liberation group working within a unit or organisation that carries out research on animals. Payam says you have to think about your principles and values and what is upheld by your organisation.
You will be held accountable if your conduct is found to be unbecoming – the OU has an agreed “Code of Practice for Research and Those Conducting Research”.
Responsibilities of the researcher
- Maintain academic integrity for example not using grant money for other projects for which the grant body has not approved
- Human values e.g. adherent to stringent moral, ethical, academic standard and behavioural conduct
- Maintaining the dignity of science
- Maintaining rigorous ethical standards in research – looking at the long term impact on the society
- Working in line with the institution guidelines.
The supervisor should set guidelines and examples of good conduct and discuss any issues concerning ethical rules that may arise
Institutional and Journal responsibilities
The institution is responsible for defining clear guidance and policies, review/update these when necessary and educate their members
Responsibilities of funding bodies include ensuring that proposals have been reviewed by an appropriate ethical review board where necessary; that there are no conflicts of interests and no overlapping sources of funding for the same work.
Scientific journals have to ensure that there is explicit criteria for acceptance of research for publication. Also to ensure that the peer-review process is fair and unbiased. A reviewer has to indicate if there is a conflict of interest. Payam indicates that by convention amongst many journals, a peer-reviewer should not have worked with any potential author for (at least) the last 5 years. Otherwise this has to be declared as a potential ‘conflict’. The author might also indicate to the editor of a journal (if this is in the guidelines) which persons they don’t want to peer review their work, but will need to give specific cause/reason and justification (i.e. since their work might overlap very closely etc).
Payam is asking what constitutes ethical misconduct. One student says making up your results. Another student says ignoring some data which does not fit a particular theory or ‘outliers’.
Payam says for outliers you can explain what they are and why they may have occurred rather than ignoring them. However, you might keep from publishing a particular piece of work/data until a later date under some circumstances, for example if there is a pending patent, or if you have a collaborative agreement (IP rights) or partnership with another organisation in place that requires the data to be validated independently first. It is not you being untruthful but rather there is a real competitive nature for your work or you have a patent pending – see Intellectual Property block in STM895.
Another student is saying stealing other peoples’ work or ideas i.e. plagiarism. Payam says this does happen occasionally like ideas shared over a drink in a bar or at a conference – only publicise your work when it has been published or has been presented at a public meeting – again need to be aware of your/your institution’s IP rights.
All of the following constitute ethical misconduct: Fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, unfounded accusations against another researcher, mischievous or malicious misrepresentations of others works.
He is asking what does not constitute ethical misconduct – making honest mistakes, technical/methodological differences, interpreting results or judging data in a different way, simple authorship disputes (whose names goes first on a paper).
Payam is saying that any work with humans or tissues has to be covered by appropriate rules in the Open University and any other institution they are working with (see relevant links).
Some examples of the following: Fabrication and falsification; Importance of Peer Review; Consequences and Accountability; Plagiarism
He is bringing up an article on BBC about a South Korean scientist on human cloning and it was published in a prestigious international journal ‘Science’.
Payam is asking why the reviewers did not know the data was fabricated. Payam is saying one reason could be the weight of the previous work done in these two laboratories and the reputation of the author’s international collaborators, the reviewers who would have seen the authors’ names, may have accepted what they presented more readily (it is not double-blind peer-reviewed). The reviewers did not scrutinise the data as much as they should and the senior scientist blamed his post-doc. He indicates that the peer-review process is not infallible. The scientist was convicted for two years in his own country, but with a suspended sentence, and the scientist can go back to his scientific work. He is saying that double-blind peer-reviewing is starting to be introduced. Payam is talking about another scientist who falsified data for 15 grant applications because of the institution he was from and his reputation. Talked about another popular figure in the media, a psychiatrist accused of substantial plagiarism, who claimed he made a “copy and paste” error. Showing another example of a review article was retracted based on plagiarism.
He is showing some results from Nature about a survey on scientists who engaged in questionable behaviour, for example, publishing the same paper in two different places, dropping data – with an alarming proportion of ‘misconduct’ occurring amongst mid-career researchers.
Mentions a site called Deja vu that can now pick up duplicate publications of scientists.
He is showing an example about the publication practices.
He is asking how to handle the order of authors on a journal paper. The senior author is usually at the end of the paper i.e. the PI. The person who did all the day to day work would be first author, or if two individuals contributed towards a study equally, they can be indicated on the paper as joint first-authors (an asterisk and statement saying they equally contributed to the work).
Payam is saying that now journals are requiring authors to specify their exact contributions to the paper (who did what in the paper), and highlighting the importance of a distinction between authorship and acknowledgement on a research paper.
Further Reading: On Being a Scientist – Responsible Conduct in Research – See case studies highlighted in the powerpoint presentation:
(i) Fabrication in a grant application;
(ii) a case of plagiarism
(iii) publication practices
(iv) credit where credit is due
(v) a career in the balance
14:28 on 24 March 2010