Education on research conduct could yield negative result, Integrity conference told

20. September 2007 11:12

Education on research conduct could yield negative result, Integrity conference told

Education or mentoring on responsible conduct of research does not always guarantee positive results on students and young researchers. Instead the talks of instructions and the effort of mentoring could, in many instances, have the opposite effect, according to a study conducted by Professor Melissa Anderson from the University of Minnesota. She was sharing her findings and presentation with the 300-some audience at the first World Conference on Research Integrity in Lisbon this week.

“Instruction promotes familiarity with policies but shows little effect on attitudes or subsequent misconduct and questionable research practices whereas mentoring has both positive and negative impacts on behaviour,” said Anderson.

Being mentored on ethics and research lowers the odds that an early-career scientist would engage in misconduct and questionable research practices, but being mentored on survival and being lectured on the pressure and the competitiveness of the science field could reversely raises the number of cases in research misconduct, Anderson told the conference audience which includes concerned scientists, scientific managers and magazine editors from around the world.

Mentoring on the art of survival in the research environment, which intends to help students to compete or to get ahead, is associated with more misbehaviour with the use of unethical methods, use of funds, peer review, fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism, the study finds. Meanwhile those who have received instructions on ethical issues could possibly given them pointers on how to manipulate data, according to Anderson.

The result has somewhat taken Anderson by surprise as her original goal for the study is to find out whether various area of course works have focused specifically on ethical issues and if mentoring efforts by professors could result in better performance.

“An atmosphere of cooperation does indeed diminish the likelihood to engage in misbehaviour. A sense of competition increases misbehaviour.”

For the three-year study, Anderson surveyed nearly 1500 early-career and 1800 mid-career students about receiving instructions or mentoring on ethical issues in research. The result indicates a third of the mid-career students had never received any training on ethical issues while 15 percent of the early career students expressed the same feedback.

Still Anderson insisted training on ethnics is useful but better instruction practice and teaching methodology are needed. She has proposed the idea of collective mentoring in a team with open discussion as competition could be considered as negative.

 “We need a collective openness in the research culture, and an atmosphere where people are feeling comfortable in rising questions,” Anderson‘s concluded.

In an effort to address the urgent need for fighting fraud, forgery and plagiarism in science world-wide, the very first World Conference on Research Integrity is taking place this week to facilitate an unprecedented global effort to foster responsible research in Lisbon, Portugal from 16 to 19 September 2007.  The event is initiated and organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the US Office for Research Integrity (ORI). It marks a milestone for the science community as it will link all those concerned parties in a global effort to tackle the issue head on.

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