[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.



Quick thoughts on the new European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity

ALLEA, the joint organisation for all European academies (also beyond the EU), has published a new version of the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. The previous one came out in 2011 and was co-written by ALLEA and the European Science Foundation (ESF), which has since gone through a major organisational transformation and a change of focus.

I am about to attend a seminar in Finland about the new code (starting in an hour!) and wanted quickly leaf it through, so that I get most out of the discussion. So what I’m about to say are super quick impressions on the document. Should I come to reconsider something after a more thorough reading, I will make sure to post it here.

First of all I am really pleased that data is acknowledged as a research output and that citing data is mentioned as a responsible practice:

• Researchers, research institutions and organisations acknowledge data as legitimate and citable products of research.

So yay for that. Unfortunately that was pretty much the only positive surprise. Beyond the parts on data management the document is very much same old, same old. Which is mostly fine in the sense, that I don’t disagree with anything (or maybe one thing, but I’ll get back to that). What is said is not so much the problem as what is left unsaid or unaddressed.

Citizen science, for one. I see that the European Citizen Science Association is one of the recognised stakeholder parties, good thing. But the traditional dichotomy between a research subject and object is in no way challenged. It is obvious that the researcher assumed in the code is someone with academic training and affiliation in an institution, such as a university or a research institute. There is no mention of co-design or anything like that. Either you are a researcher (or what is called a partner, but I see that hardly applying to individual citizens or f.e. informal networks of citizens) or you are a subject (more like an object in this context). Also the relationship between research and society, and the responsibility that the research community holds towards the society that funds it, is hardly touched upon.

There is of course this:

• Researchers publish results and interpretations of research in an open, honest, transparent and accurate manner, and respect confidentiality of data or findings when legitimately required to do so.

But without defining what is meant by open, this is very weak. There is nothing about translating results to the general public, engaging relevant stakeholders into discussion or trying to make sure that the research has impact beyond the impact factor. I think choices between publishers should be seen as an integrity issue: do you choose to disregard the unsustainable and even straight dishonest practices of some publishers in your quest for publications, or do you choose to go to one of the responsible and open ones. This could apply both to predatory publishers and say, corporations bleeding research communities and hogging ownership of publicly funded research outputs while making bigger profits than the oil industry.

Which brings me to the chapter that frustrates me the most, 2.7. Publication and Dissemination. The perversity of the current academic publishing model coupled with the process of gaining merit is the main threat to research integrity: how journal article is in many, if not in most fields the only way to have research results acknowledged, creating incentives for authorship-fraud, data secrecy and p-hacking, among other things. These are all practices that the code aims at preventing! And still journal article is presented as the default way of disseminating research – without naming it, mind you – with no mention, let alone encouragement, to exploring the plethora of other means provided by the digital environment. I guess it could be argued that since the article is not mentioned as the main type of publication, the code can be applied to all kinds of research outputs in the public space. But just trying to fit this supposed one-size-fits-all T-shirt on data authorship shows that it is just too tight.

To summarize: on the one hand the code is too general, like when it doesn’t acknowledge the paradigm shift of citizen science (BTW, I see that as the real paradigm shift, not open science, as you sometimes hear stated), on the other it’s too specific, like when it addresses article authorship issues, but leaves out data authorship, open collaboration articles, websites, games, you name it.

I would have liked to see bolder and more forward looking stances. Now the document is like a guest late at the party, trying to jump in a conversation that is already moving on to other topics. The code is, rightfully, described as  “a living document that is updated regularly and that allows for local or national differences in its implementation.” The next update cannot come too soon. Hopefully that one will not be outdated since publication.

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.