What is an honest broker?

I got the idea for the name of the blog from a comment made by chancellor emeritus Kari Raivio (Univeristy of Helsinki). He was quoted in an interview by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat saying that the Finnish government should start using a scientific adviser, a. k. a. an honest broker (the news article was in Finnish, but he still used the English term). It was the first time I heard the words, even though it seems that the term has been coined quite a while ago, in 2007 by Roger Pielke, Jr. Or at least that’s what I figured after a minute and a half of googling. Anyway. The Honest Broker immediately stuck in my mind as a catchy and useful concept. I like playing with words and as I started to think about writing a blog on research integrity, I didn’t have to search for a title too long. My initial idea was to call the blog “the Gray Area”, referring to scientific practices that do not quite cross the border between good conduct and flat-out fraud, but hover somewhere in between. Unfortunately the title wasn’t very original, as I realized after, again, some googling. This time making the conclusion didn’t even take one and a half minutes. But for some fortunate reason the blogging hipster mormon moms hadn’t realized yet the joys of brokering honestly, so my second option for the name of this blog was mine for the taking.

I think being an honest broker is the most important thing a researcher can do. If science is not honest, and by honest I mean striving for academic excellence, following field specific ethical principles and general good scientific conduct as well as making the findings publicly available, it isn’t worth a cent. A major scientific break-through doesn’t have any impact unless it is accessible to policy-makers, journalists and citizens. That’s the broker part. A research that is based on falsified data, plagiarism or just done sloppily can’t, or at least shouldn’t, have any societal impact either. There you have the importance of honesty. Kari Raivio’s one honest broker giving our national government advice is not enough (and it doesn’t seem that it’s happening in Finland any time soon). We need more. This blog is my effort in trying to become one.

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