One of my areas of research focus in bioethics is known as the responsible conduct of research (RCR) (a.k.a. research integrity). Research on research integrity covers a range of different norms and practices including authorship and publication ethics, research misconduct (fabrication, falsification and plagiarism), responsible mentorship, peer review, and RCR education among others. I have written on several of these topics in our AMBI blogs.
One of the topics I am interested in chatting about today is bias in the academic setting, but even more generally in the workplace. Much about research methodology aims to reduce or eliminate bias. For example, the experimental scientific method attempts to reduce bias by having proper controls, blinding researchers, and employing statistics so that we don’t over interpret our findings. Sociologists and other qualitative researchers may declare their biases when reporting research so the reader knows where the researcher is coming from. The entire concept of declaring conflicts of interest also aim to permit others to know what potential interest(s) the researcher may have which could bias their results. Moreover, the peer review process, which academia heavily relies on, aims to reduce bias in research. Peer review is not only used in the context of evaluating research, it also evaluates academic scholars for jobs, committee memberships, awards and scholarships, and other entitlements. One recent studydone by Drs. Daniele Fanelli and John Ioannidis showed the overestimation of effect sizes in behavioral research. Here the researchers performed a meta-analysis of meta-analyses (cleverly called meta meta-analysis) and found that researchers working in the behavioral, but not biomedical, sciences tended to exaggerate effects that were not supported by the data. Most interestingly, this exaggerated effect was heightened if the research had one or more US authors. While this sort of bias in the reporting of research may at first glance seem relatively benign, it actually has significant consequences because other researchers build on the results of previously published work and accumulatively, our social policies and clinical practices are based on evidence collected from such studies. Yet bias can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in the academic and research context, some of which I think hits more personally to individual researchers.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.