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Rethinking Responsible Scholarship: ‘It is in so many day-to-day decisions, we forget to pause and reflect sometimes’

Psychologists Anna van ‘t Veer and Eiko Fried will start a scientific integrity workshop tour after the summer, called Responsible Scholarship: Psychology. Their aim: giving the subject a more prominent position in the academic’s mind.

Ask a scientist about whether they would like to conduct honest, unbiased and transparent research, and few would say no. However, according to Anna van 't Veer and Eiko Fried, there is still need for conscious consideration of what scientific integrity means to individual researchers and the teams they work in, and how researchers and educators can incorporate it into their daily practice. It’s one of the reasons they have initiated their Responsible Scholarship workshops. Van ‘t Veer: ‘They’re supposed to be a kick starter for a broader, ongoing discussion: This topic cannot be solved in a 90-minute workshop, and certainly not by just the two of us.’

Tailored workshops

A: ‘In these workshops, we update colleagues in the Psychology institute on the latest developments concerning scientific integrity, but also ask them to work in smaller groups on specific themes which spark their interest, such as authorship, Open Science, or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We have made worksheets that can start the conversations, and hopefully help people develop concrete products, such as a lab vision. For now, we’re only focusing on psychologists, but we see a need to broaden initiatives like this on the faculty level and beyond.’  

E: ‘This modular character with different themes is important, because it turns out there are big differences between norms and practice. For example, everybody agrees on the norm of transparency, but how to best implement that may differ between fields. Also, some of the themes will be more important in some units, while others aren’t as relevant. In areas with larger author teams, perhaps norms about authorship contributions could be a topic to discuss. In other areas such as clinical psychology, where open datasets are uncommon, this topic could be more relevant.’

'We see this project as a way to instill a cultural change' - Van 't Veer 

A: ‘After such meetings, people often fall back into their established patterns, and we see this workshop and the overall project as a way to try to actually instill a cultural change. This is why we’ve talked to different committees and policy makers, with as a result for instance a role for the research coordinators of each department. How great would it be if after we’ve toured the units, they actively take on the challenge of bringing day-to-day integrity related topics to the foreground?’

Navigating gray areas

A: ‘Scientific integrity is ingrained in all the daily decisions we make as scientists. I’ve come to believe that for students, the moment they learn about doing or consuming research, they also need to learn how it is done well. This is why I think this subject should be woven into our students’ whole education. For researchers, there are so many gray areas, and especially when dealing with daily pressures and workload, it’s very easy to make decisions that at the time seem inconsequential or can easily be rationalized. Taken together, those little distortions can make science incomplete or unreliable.’  

'When are you overstating your results, and when are you just excited about your work?' - Fried

E: ‘Often, there are no easy answers to scientific integrity-questions; they’re dilemmas. Take authorship: sometimes, I have many bachelor students collecting data. If I put all of them as co-authors on every paper resulting from this dataset, one could argue I  give away authorships too freely. But if I don’t include any of them on any papers, this can be equally problematic because students deserve credit for their work. Or take talking to journalists about your research. When are you overstating your results, or when are you just excited about your work? These are difficult decisions to make.’

Integrity compass

A: Doing our work with integrity, and in a transparent and collaborative way, is a shared responsibility. Without good rewards and recognition of the practices that take more time but make for more rigorous work, it is understandable we cannot keep asking of ourselves to put quality first. We also cannot instantly change pressures in the system that relate to assessment, incentives, expectations, demands, career opportunities, publications, etc.  But we can start cultivating a personal ‘integrity compass’ if you will, something to help consciously navigate this landscape.  I think we can foster this integrity compass by leveraging the social norms, talking about dilemmas, and making our values explicit. The idea is to see our workshop as a scheduled moment to get updated and think about how we practice our work responsibly.’ 

'We can start cultivating a personal 'integrity compass'- Van 't Veer

E: ‘I think we also need a better culture around mistakes: it’s okay to make those, and we should talk about them more. You shouldn’t be proud to make mistakes, but you should be proud if you can correct the scientific record. This includes, if necessary, retracting your work. I published a correction a few years ago, based on a statistical mistake I made. Oddly enough, I had to fight the journal editor for two years to publish the correction, I suspect because corrections don’t look good for journals.’

Future work

A: ‘In the future, we hope others can make use of our workshop material. Perhaps other institutes and disciplines can take it and tailor it to their own groups.  That’s honestly the drive for me; contributing to a continuous improvement of science.’

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