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December 31, 2013 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Bioethics research is closely tied with policy. While discrepancies exist, I classify bioethics as an interdisciplinary field of study. As most interdisciplinary fields, one aim of bioethics is to develop practical solutions for real world problems in the biomedical and clinical sciences among other fields it impacts. Thus much of bioethics scholarship is closely intertwined and aims to inform health, social and science policy. Bioethics scholarship is also meaningful in attempting to raise awareness and educate researchers, practitioners, patients and the public on many areas of ethics in the health sciences. As a bioethics academic who has worked in both Canadian and U.S. institutions, I have enjoyed the benefit of examining policy and educational landscapes in both countries. Today, I want to specifically talk about research integrity policies, practices and education in Canada and compare it to the U.S.

What is research integrity?

Academics in every discipline including the fundamental and applied sciences (i.e., biomedical science, engineering), the social sciences, and humanities are self-governed professionals who conduct research upholding principles of research integrity. Research integrity (a.k.a. scientific integrity or the responsible conduct of research) captures a range of principles and practices governing ethical research. It includes practices such as research misconduct (commonly known as fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism), authorship and publication ethics, peer review, mentoring, conflicts of interest, research involving animals and humans and social responsibility. Yet beyond outlining principles and practices, there is a growing field of research on research integrity where scholars try and improve our understanding of the normative and practical aspects of research integrity. I’ve written about different topics within research integrity including what is conceptual bioethics research? and peer review in previous AMBI blogs.

Research Integrity in Canada

The term research integrity is often used interchangeably with research ethics although I have stayed away from that term. The reason being is that most people equate “research ethics” only as the ethics of research involving humans. However, research integrity captures the ethics of research involving humans and as mentioned above, a range of other practices. All this is to say that there is a fair bit of awareness of research ethics (ethics of research involving humans) in Canada, but a lack of knowledge and training on other practices of research integrity when compared to the U.S. and even other developed nations. I have argued previously that we need to better understand the Canadian research integrity landscape in order to further strengthen the Canadian system of research integrity. (See Master, Z. 2012. The ethics and governance of research integrity in Canada. Health Law Review 20:5-14 – and – Master, Z., McDonald, M. and Williams-Jones, B. 2012. Promoting research on research integrity in Canada. Accountability in Research: Policies and Quality Assurance 19:47-52.)

Most countries have developed national policies on research integrity as a reaction to a major case of research misconduct such as falsification or fabrication of research (see Resnik, D.B. and Master Z. 2013. PLoS Medicine  http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001406http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001406). Canadian researchers are certainly not immune to research misconduct or other forms of misbehavior. One famous case in Canada includes Dr. Roger Poisson who was convicted of research misconduct in the U.S. where he falsified or fabricated data in over a 100 instances. What many researchers who are convicted for misconduct do is try and move to another jurisdiction where their past doesn’t follow them. Thus Poisson moved to the University of Montreal and was forced to retire soon after being accepted as faculty. A thorough examination of media cases from the internet shows that there are several cases of research misbehavior in Canada (see the aforementioned 2012 Health Law Review article for a more substantive review of cases). Yet what Canada lacks in this regard are research studies that systematically outline the types and frequencies of different misbehaviors in Canadian academic institutions. Similar studies to this have been performed by researchers in the U.S. We have a decent understanding of the prevalence of research misbehaviors in the U.S.

While the Canadian national policy and the governance organization behind it attempts to promote research integrity education in Canadian institutions of higher learning, it is not much more than a “call” for education along with the development of an online tutorial. In the U.S., first developed at the University of Miami, there is an online training program called CITI – Collaborative Institutional Training Program (https://www.citiprogram.org/) – which has educational programs on research integrity, ethics of research involving humans and many more subject areas and is also tailored to different disciplinary practices such as the social sciences, biomedical science, and engineering. There is also a research study that evaluates whether educational programs on research integrity in U.S. academic universities and colleges meet federal requirements. Needless to say, nothing similar exists in Canada. While I suspect that the ethics of research involving humans and animals is taught within many academic institutions in Canada, I assume that education on research integrity is piecemeal and overall lacking in most universities. Certainly there is no study to measure what educational programs on research integrity are out there, what topics they cover, or even how most trainees or junior and senior faculty learn about research integrity.

In this blog, I focus on two aspects of research integrity – understanding the prevalence of misbehavior and canvassing the educational landscape. Concentrating research in these two areas is perhaps a starting point to better understand the Canadian research integrity landscape. From this point, we can use the evidence collected from such studies to better promote research integrity, increase awareness and potentially prevent future research misbehavior. This information will be most pertinent to researchers, academic institutions, and policy-makers and will serve to strengthen the Canadian research integrity framework.

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.

0 comments | Topics: Bioethics and Public Policy, Education, Research Integrity, Responsible Conduct of Research


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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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