Over the past decade international research collaborations have gone from infrequent to commonplace, but it has not come without growing pains.
Daniel Vasgird, director of the West Virginia University Office of Research Integrity and Compliance, recently returned from the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity, where leaders in the field discussed the necessity for consistent standards to address research misconduct on a global scale in addition to the need for responsible conduct of research education and training programs that have consistent curricula and reach across borders.
“The global community – both academia and the lay community – has to have confidence in scientists and the research they produce,” Vasgird said. “Without that trust, we lose the public’s contribution to and support of further research.”
He explained that there is a contract relationship between society and science, in which the public will actively support scientific research that will help create a more secure and fulfilling world, but the expectation is that the research is conducted responsibly and ethically.
Vasgird and other research ethics experts warn that when that contract is broken, science suffers.
For example, in 2014 the academic world was blindsided by revelations of research misconduct in what was thought to be a genuine scientific breakthrough in the field of stem-cell research.
The study, which was led by a Japanese scientist and co-authored by researchers in Boston, claimed to have discovered an efficient technique to make stem cells that could be used to treat complicated illnesses by using a simple acid bath.
The findings were published in Nature, a highly regarded scientific journal, but soon after the study was retracted after investigations found evidence of scientific misconduct.
Vasgird said that the case had ripple effects across the scientific and lay communities, undermining confidence in that area of scientific inquiry and extended to all others.
The European Science Foundation and the United States Office of Research Integrity launched the conference eight years ago to create a dialogue about research integrity and the need for international standards.
This year more than 1,000 attendees from 52 countries gathered in Rio de Janeiro to continue dialogue about the need for systems that promote responsible research practices. Topics included publication ethics, systems and policies that foster research integrity, the role of research funders and the drivers of research misconduct.
“Not only are research collaborations cross-national, but they are cross-disciplinary and cross-sector, too,” Vasgird said. “For example, a team could consist of a biologist, statistician, psychologist and oncologist from four different countries.”
Vasgird explained that in the U.S., research misconduct typically consists of fabrication, falsification or plagiarism, but other countries have their own definitions of what constitutes misconduct.
Something as seemingly simple as authorship can mean different things in different countries and fields, bringing up questions such as who should be listed as an author and what constitutes a substantive contribution to research.
Vasgird is the co-principal investigator of the NSF-funded Authors Without Borders initiative, a project that addresses the issue of authorship in scientific papers on a global scale by creating a uniform authorship standard.
He presented the paper, “The intertwined nature of hope and socially responsible science,” and chaired a session on behavior, trust and honesty in science.
“Ultimately, these discussions are important to the health of the research environment and of the literature that is produced,” Vasgird said.
CONTACT: Daniel Vasgird, WVU Office of Research Integrity and Compliance
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