June 19, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

By sharing a recent experience in which I delivered a lecture and case at a responsible conduct of research (RCR) workshop for biomedical science trainees, I will comment on why I believe that pedagogy on the RCR, specifically for biomedical scientists, needs two essential ingredients: delivering knowledge/information and providing case-based learning. The art is to determine how much of each element is needed and how to most effectively deliver information on an RCR topic and ensure trainees get the most from the ethical analysis of cases.

Ethics Workshop: Responsible Research Conduct & Misconduct in Stem Cell Research

As part of Canada’s Stem Cell Network at http://www.stemcellnetwork.ca, I had the unique opportunity to organize and present an Ethics Workshop as part of the Network’s annual Till & McCulloch Meetings in October 2013. The workshop was a lecture followed by an interactive ethical case using “The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct” video hosted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) at https://ori.hhs.gov/thelab. The 50 to 60 workshop attendees were primarily master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral trainees, and almost all were biomedical researchers working with stem cells. Most attendees had never heard of RCR. Thus, the goals of the workshop were modest and involved introducing attendees to the following: RCR, research misconduct (fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism), the RCR link to scientific retractions, issues of authorship and publication ethics, and Canada’s RCR framework.

The workshop began with a discussion of several high-profile cases of stem cell fraud, including the 2009 Hwang cloning scandal. The discussion also included more recent cases involving research misbehaviors uncovered at The New York Stem Cell Foundation meeting and the case of misconduct in Amy Wagers’ lab at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. The purpose was to make the audience aware that research misbehavior does occur in the stem cell field and in other areas of biomedicine.

I chose to focus on research misconduct and authorship because our workshop was 1.5 hours. I focused on misconduct because it is perhaps one of the most dishonest behaviors in the ethics of science. I also focused on authorship because most students are likely to encounter situations in which they disagree on it. I began with a broad picture of science and society and explained why scientists have moral obligations to conduct research upholding the highest integrity standards. I next offered a big-picture overview of the range of ethical violations in research. I then delved into the ethics, policies, and practices related to research misconduct and to authorship and publication ethics. To convey an ethical case that had elements of misconduct and authorship, I decided to use The Lab interactive video. The ORI video was ideal for use with a large audience. It permits attendees to choose responses and allows me to pause the video and ask why some chose one response over another before moving forward to the next segment. For smaller classroom settings, a more intimate discussion would be better suited to get into the crux of the case. We chose to examine the role of Kim Park, the graduate student who questions how another researcher used her data. I made sure that not all the best choices were selected so participants could understand why some choices are better than others. From the continuous discussion and laughter, it seemed the video was a hit, and a follow-up survey showed that students were very satisfied.

I was quite happy with the results of the workshop, and while flying back home, I reflected on some of my experiences teaching RCR to different audiences. Since 2009, I have given guest lectures on RCR to government scientists and academic audiences, primarily students in science, medicine, and law. In the past two years, I have co-instructed the two RCR courses offered at AMC, which my colleague John E. Kaplan, Ph.D., describes in his commentary. The focus of the course will inform the tools you decide to use in class. For example, lectures I have given to law students in a Biotechnology Policy and the Law course at the University of Alberta focused on the ethics of science and the governing laws and policies in Canada and internationally. The lectures could have incorporated an analysis of legal cases if the focus was on legal practice and I was trained as a lawyer. As scientists are not trying to be legal or bioethics scholars in RCR, both the RCR workshop and our AMC courses on scientific integrity take on a more practical bent, and the emphasis is placed on cases. As I will go on to discuss, cases with nearly no background information on an RCR topic paint a partial picture. Courses designed to teach RCR to scientists require both knowledge components and case-based teaching.

Both parts 1 and 2 of this blog were originally published as a commentary in the Office of Research Integrity’s Newsletter (http://ori.hhs.gov/newsletters) Volume 22, Number 2, March 2014 and has been reproduced with permission for the AMBI blog.

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.

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