STEMPeers Strongly Advocates for RCR Training

To, 

The heads of Indian’s science funding agencies, Institutions, Departments and Divisions, and Educational policy makers.

 

Dear Sir/Madam:

First, we thank you for your service to Indian Science.

The recent spate of news on image and data manipulation shows that the current training in Science in many parts over India misses on communicating science with honesty and integrity. When training in communicating science effectively and successfully is done without a foundational training in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR), crops of researchers who do not comprehend the importance of the scientific method and ethics in science are produced. When this is done over generations, the bad deeds of these untrained individuals brings bad reputation, becomes a drain on the limited resources for research, and gives nothing in return to the nation that invests in research, thus doing more harm than good. It also affects those who are not directly responsible. It does irreparable harm to scientific advancement and science careers for generations, if not taken seriously.

Looking at how widespread image manipulation is and its magnitude, it won’t be surprising if the people who indulge in these activities also do not grasp the importance of science to society, or even underplays it, being barely privy to scientific method and scientific temperament. It would not be wise to believe that scientists who does not take science with the seriousness and integrity it deserves would honestly stand with science or inculcate such values in students and scholars they train and mentor. These dishonest folks are a danger to genuine scientists in India who struggle against all odds to make top quality contributions.

Therefore, we at PhD Career Support Group, a US-based international non-profit, serving various needs of science and research scholars, and fostering and supporting science careers throughout the world, would make the following recommendations as we advocate to foster research training with emphasis on conducting research with honesty and integrity, and punish those who are directly responsible for turning a blind eye or even encouraging data manipulation. 

  1. Intellectual honesty in formulating, conducting and communicating research should become a foundational principle for research funding and continued research support throughout the country.
  2. Training in Research ethics should be made compulsory by the major funding agencies in the country, foundations that provide research support, institutional, departmental and divisional heads. Currently, there are only a few, and not everyone has access to such training.
  3. Training in Research ethics should be rigorously enforced across the research community. 
  4. Research support at all levels should be tied to availability and adherence to this training.
  5. Tests or exams should be conducted in RCR. The results should be evaluated by other researchers who are independent of institutes being tested, preferably in a blinded manner. 
  6. Qualifying the required RCR tests or exams should be mandatory for participation in scientific research.
  7. RCR is advocated by other funding agencies in the world. Those resources should be accessed to implement the development and provision of training modules. 
  8. RCR training should be broad and not limited to data collection, management, and reporting. 
  9. Subject matter under RCR training must include how authorship and inventorship is decided, and reporting of conflicts of interest, in scientific publications. 
  10. There should be serious consequences to indulging in irresponsible conduct of research, for example, data manipulation. 
  11. Researchers should be made aware of these consequences before hand so they understand the importance of RCR training and adherence to RCR codes.
  12. There should be a system in place to penalize the faculty members who are part of such retracted papers, for example, disqualifying them from government funding and guiding students for a period of 5 years.
  13. We also believe that the affected students should get a second chance to prove their integrity by transferring them to another guide. The second instance of misconduct on their part should disqualify them from their PhD program.
  14. Teaching the importance of experimental controls, the validation of experimental data by reproducing it multiple times, and the proper use of statistical tools should be an integral part of this training.
  15. Proper reporting of statistical methods should be enforced and open big data sharing should be encouraged to reduce misconduct.
  16. Past examples of research misconduct, and their effects on resources, careers and scientific progress itself should be made a part of this training. Without such examples, it would be naive to expect that those who are not trained in the scientific method properly at the school and college levels will suddenly grasp its importance and adapt.
  17. RCR learning examples should be content-based, and not person-specific..
  18. RCR should be made part of science syllabus in schools and colleges. Short of this, irresponsible conduct of research will take a permanent foothold all over the country.
  19. Training in understanding Plagiarism should be made part of syllabus in schools and colleges. Short of this, creative and original writing will take a permanent backseat all over the country.
  20. Plagiarism check should be implemented for all bachelors/masters/PhD thesis as well as all writing assignments.
  21. Training to differentiate facts from opinions should be made part of research and science training at all levels.

 

Syam Prasad Anand

Vice President PhD CSG/STEMpeers