Ethical Research Is a Shared Responsibility

George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc opens a three-day conference on scientific integrity and knowledge sharing.

Thomas LeBlanc
George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc opens the Quest for Research Excellence conference at the Marvin Center Monday. (William Atkins/ GW Today)
August 07, 2017

By Kristen Mitchell

At a time when researchers are pressured to publish scientific findings more frequently and compete for fewer funding opportunities, it is important for universities and partner organizations to focus on preserving responsible and ethical research, George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc said on Monday.

“Despite these challenges, research continues to answer some of our most pressing questions and produce breakthroughs that will treat diseases and improve the quality of our lives,” he said.

In his first public opening remarks as GW president, Dr. LeBlanc opened the three-day Quest for Research Excellence conference at the Marvin Center Monday morning. The conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity, the GW Office of the Vice President for Research and Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, aims to fuel knowledge sharing and promote responsible research and scientific integrity among scientists, educators, journal editors, government officials and other stakeholders.

The theme of the 2017 conference is “Breaking Down the Silos” and includes discussions on research misconduct, the responsible conduct of research, the legal implications of research misconduct, scientific publications and open science.

Dr. LeBlanc said upholding the principles of research integrity is a shared responsibility for everyone in the scientific community. The public is bombarded with headlines about research misconduct, and the ripples from those stories travel faster and further than any significant lab findings.

“Accusations and findings of misconduct follow investigators throughout his or her career, and ultimately these stories undermine the public’s faith in the scientific research, and they further erode support for adequate funding of important projects,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

Dr. LeBlanc applauded the work of Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa, who has overseen a rise in the the National Science Foundation’s research ranking. In that time, GW has also hired world-class faculty, Dr. LeBlanc said.

“Over the last decade our university has been transitioning from an institution with a primary focus on its teaching mission to one that places both education and research at the center of our mission,” he said. “The shift has given GW a unique opportunity to build a world-class research infrastructure from the ground up.”

Dr. LeBlanc also thanked Sheila Garrity, OVPR’s associate vice president for research integrity, who was a primary event organizer. Ms. Garrity is set to moderate a panel on addressing research misconduct Monday afternoon and lead a breakout session on the subject.

Philip Campbell

Sir Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature and Nature Research, said in his keynote address Monday researchers are spread thin and spending an increased amount of time on administrative tasks. (William Atkins/ GW Today)

In his keynote address on Monday, Sir Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature and Nature Research, talked about the challenges journal editors and reviewers face when selecting papers for publication. Nature receives about 11,000 submissions every year and only 7 to 8 percent of those are published. To meet demand reviewers are looking at 10 submissions a week.

Nature’s peer reviewers take a strict look at a paper’s significance and intrigue in determining what will be published.

“We’re just trying to publish what we think is interesting,” Dr. Campbell said. “We’re not looking for citations because it’s very hard to anticipate citations, and we’re certainly not looking for media coverage because we get that anyway. If the paper is interesting the media will go for it, but we don’t need it. It’s not a motivating factor for why to publish a paper.”

Dr. Campbell said principal investigators are drowning in work. They face pressure to publish and sometimes daunting research modifications from peer reviewers. They are also spending an increased amount of time on grant writing and administrative tasks.

This type of work can diminish research potential, Dr. Campbell said.

“The younger people are spending more time on research, as you would expect, but even for the youngest ones the average time spent on research is only 50 percent,” he said. “There are all sorts of questions one might ask about this but just an indicator that you need to focus on these things, you need to see how they are spending their time.”

The conference continues at the Marvin Center with breakout sessions on topics including data and international research integrity, as well as plenary speakers through Wednesday.

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