WCRI 2017 Poster Session: INTEGRITY – FRAGMENTED & OUTSOURCED

[If you arrived here using the short link bit.ly/fear_of_scooping, you might be interested in reading about my first article, “Afraid of Scooping – Case Study on Researcher Strategies against Fear of Scooping in the Context of Open Science“. It was first presented at SciDataCon2016 as a conference paper and then submitted for Data Science Journal as a research paper. It was accepted there with minor revision and is currently in the final stages of editing. I have publised a preprint manuscript in Zenodo.] 

The abstract for this poster can be seen in my Zenodo repository. It was first submitted to World Conference on Research Integrity 2017 as paper proposal (this too will someday be noted in the updated version of my CV of failures).

In the poster I claim that the social conscience of academic research, at least in Finland and very likely in many other countries, is fragmented and outsourced. Fragmented because discussion, development and implementation of issues concerning research integrity, research ethics and open science have been siloed to separate containers, based on arbitrary organizational boundaries and in a way that doesn’t encourage inter-silo dialogue. Outsourced, because the bodies regulating research integrity and research ethics and promoting open science are governmental and the people institutional elite of near mandarin status.

For many historical reasons the Finnish learned societies, the four academies that would be the natural outlets for multidisciplinary opinion and evidence based advice, have been for a long time very passive in all kinds of matters, but especially national research policy. The research behind the poster is still ongoing, but so far it seems that the academies had virtually no part to play in the formation of the Finnish research ethical landscape.

When the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (TENK, which was for the first twenty years called Board on Research Ethics) was founded in the early 1990’s , the initiative didn’t come from the research community, but the national parliament and government instead. The Finnish equivalent to a national research council, the Academy of Finland was the first to take on the task of advising and guiding the community in matters of research ethics, to be soon replaced by the Ministry of Education and it’s specially appointed board.

In the beginning the motivation for ethical guidance and oversight was tackling research misconduct and having a watchful eye on the development of genetic research. Quite soon the previous motivation shadowed the latter in the work of TENK, as the tasks related to medical ethics, gene technology and animal testing were taken over by ministries that dealt with the legislation in those domains. These emerging bodies didn’t concentrate on just the challenges of scientific research, but dealt also with industry concerns, for example. Each body got a small secretariat, sometimes less than a whole person year per year, and an expert board of their own.

Fortunately there are currently international efforts to bridge these gaps of yesteryear, such as the ENERI project, that tries to bring European research ethics committees and research integrity offices closer together. Also the secretariats of the Finnish boards have done their best with their scarce resources and held semi-regular meetings together.

Unfortunately mistakes have a tendency to be repeated. Open science, the pursuit of making academic research more accessible, transparent, efficient and influential, is in Finland being driven forward by none other than once again the government, through a Ministry of Education and Culture Open Science & Research initiative. The universities and other research institutions are getting more an more on board on the top governing level, but once more, the community lags behind. I have personally had the questionable honor of speaking about the benefits of open research in an official University of Helsinki doctoral school on human sciences event to a crowd of less than ten people, in a hall that could have fit a hundred (another one for the CV of failures).

The ALLEA Code of Conduct on Research Integrity is another disappointing example. First of all it was apparently updated because the EU Commission asked it to be. When discussing dissemination, the code focuses only on formal print era publications, leaving out dissemination throughout the research life cycle, new digital tools and media, popular science and citizen engagement altogether. When I asked about this oversight from someone who has been involved in the writing process, they said that the code was written in a way that reflects the status quo of the research community’s understanding of what is responsible practice and what isn’t.

Sometimes the lack of initiative and enthusiasm from the research community in the face of societal responsibility of research makes me want to scream. I understand that people need to put bread on the table and that requires articles, which require lots and lots of very hard work. But is the load of publish or perish really that burdensome, that it doesn’t leave room for anything else (in the professional capacity)? Or could the outsourcing of social responsibility have created a vicious circle: out of plain sight, out of mind? That’s something to reflect upon in my next print era high impact journal article.

 

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