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Review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research Submission

ID: 
23
Personal Details
This submission reflects the views of
Organisation Name: 
Murdoch University
Specific comments
Specific comments: 
Specific consultation questions
Question 1: Do you like the new approach to the Code, namely the principles-based document being supported by several guides that provide advice on implementation?: 
Our overall feedback is strongly positive of this principles-based document with its supporting guides, as it enables universities and institutions with different local contexts to apply the Code flexibly. A number of specific concerns emerged from our feedback process: • While the principles-based approach offers welcome flexibility, it could in some instances create uncertainty as to the interpretation and application of the Code. It could thus lead to greater diversity in interpretation compared with the current Code, with institutions developing a wider range of standards and reaching more diverse outcomes. • Will institutions be asked or required to report on breaches to an external body as a form of monitoring? • In research involving national or international teams, with differing state or international laws and systems, how will the Code be applied? Consider providing best practice guidelines to the questions that need to be addressed in research agreements, ethics arrangements, standards, etc. for collaborative contexts involving international research teams. Include guidelines on how national and international issues that arise can be resolved. • This revision does not resolve the extent to which the Code needs to be made binding through Enterprise Agreements, policies and other instruments. Some overarching comment concerning the intent of this revision would be appreciated on this matter. • Areas of responsibilities e.g. authorship, data management, conflicts of interest, etc. are not listed in the Code, but in the Guide. These should also be stated in the Code. • The Code does not make any statement of principle about the responsibility of institutions to support freedom of expression abiding by ethical research practices. There is no countenancing of circumstances in which researchers may face intimidation and legal threats from interests seeking to suppress findings in the public good that are the result of ethical research practices. It is suggested that a statement of principle be included to address this. Consideration should be given to both individual and institutional responsibility. • Reference to the 3Rs is made in the Code while it is silent on other ethical principles. Perhaps a rationale may be provided or the 3Rs be referred to more generically? The latter would eliminate the need to define ‘3Rs’ in the terms.
Question 2:The draft Code is intended to be used by all research disciplines. Do the principles adequately capture the expectations for responsible research across all research disciplines?: 
Yes, we agree that the draft Code, with associated guides, is high-level and broad enough to cover different disciplines. We provide more specific feedback under the following sub-headings: Principles of Responsible Research Conduct • An insertion could be made to specify that the application process for funds should be transparent, to encourage integrity. This is different to the stewardship and use of funds in P7 (iii). Responsibilities of institutions • R5, R6 and R8 should be consecutive, i.e., move R7. • R12 is well outlined in the draft Guide (Section 5). While it addresses the potential for vexatious complaints, the Guide should not imply or assume that either the Complainant or Respondent is guilty. Both should have equitable access to support, if this is required. • Some further guidance on the onus of proof could be helpful e.g. when this should be borne by the Complainant. • The inclusion of the following in the Guide is very helpful: ‘Threatening and/or taking retaliatory action must not be tolerated by the institution. The Respondent should be advised that any retaliatory action against the complainant would trigger other processes related to general misconduct’ (p. 11). Responsibilities of researchers • Something should be stated about the link between particular and overarching responsibilities in the whole research process e.g. the overarching project development, funding application, research approvals, conduct of research, reporting and management of the research team (including laboratory technicians, research assistants, etc.) and how this links with individual responsibilities. It is noted that sometimes laboratory technicians or research assistants are attributed with research errors which may not be entirely their responsibility. • As stated above, it would be useful to have guidelines on how responsibilities for international teams are distributed, particularly for collaborations involving researchers from states/countries with significantly different standards e.g. guidelines for obtaining data from elsewhere, where ethics boundaries are blurred, to minimise the exploitation of people, animals and resources. • There should be an explicit statement about the environment and safety which are presumably implicitly covered under R27.
Question 3: The draft Guide refers to breaches of the Code rather than providing a definition of research misconduct, and states that institutions can decide whether or not to use the term research misconduct in their own processes.: 
Yes, the guidance is clear and implementable. We offer the following observations: (a) The use of ‘breaches’ is helpful. • The definition of ‘breach’ works well in that it is not limited to the Code but incorporates other requirements for responsible research conduct e.g. adherence to the ethics and safety requirements. Additionally, it ties research standards to appropriate use of research funds. • Examples of fabrication, falsification and misrepresentation, on a website for example, would be useful. • In 3.1 (ii), perhaps the term ‘misrepresentation’ should be in the sub-heading. • The Code could be clearer in stating that simply putting a Senior Researcher’s name on a research grant application is a form of falsification or misrepresentation, if they are not an active researcher on a project. An alternate approach, where a Senior Researcher is needed, may be to have the Senior Researcher as a ‘guarantor’. • The model for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is welcomed. Removal of the prima facie requirement, along with assistance that can be provided by the institution to formulate complaints (p. 10), and acceptance of anonymous complaints, address issues such as whistle blowing, and may enable those in a disempowered position to make complaints. (b) The severity scale for breaches is helpful. It may increase the level of reporting if that is the end goal. However, we raise the following issues: • Interpretation of the severity of a breach may differ on a case by case basis. • In the event of a serious breach, which may be research misconduct, unless the institution has robust policies and procedures, a finding of research misconduct may be hard to apply. • The Guide should have advice on processes for complex cases in the event that internal processes are unable to resolve the case. • The Guide should have guidance for inter-institution and / or international breaches – e.g. who takes responsibility for the investigation of complaints?
Question 4: Do you think the process described for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is clearly described and practical?: 
The process is clear and practical. We raise the following points: • ‘Possible breach’ may be more apt than ‘potential breach’. • Perhaps more details on the assessment and investigative processes outside the two broad disciplines of Arts and Sciences could be provided. • It would be appropriate to provide standards and training to develop Assessor skills. Different Assessors with different levels of experience and expertise could approach the same complaint quite differently. Harmonisation of standards and approaches through training would be welcomed. • Section 7.2 of the Guide states that the secretariat maintains the record for evidence. How long should the records be maintained? Can these be accessed in an appeal? • It would be valuable to include a reminder to institutions to ensure adequate resourcing of the investigation and management of breaches such that the independence of investigations is upheld.
Question 5: The Code Review Committee and working group are considering what additional resources should be developed to support implementation of the Code and Guide.: 
Yes, case studies are useful but a broad and varied range of scenarios should be included to address different research contexts. Further, the case studies and examples would be useful for research training, especially with graduate research students and new staff. We also offer the following: • We have identified two websites which may provide a useful model or an additional set of resources: • Resources on record-keeping and data management (see http://dataverse.org/best-practices/replication-dataset). • A moderated site for seeking answers to issues pertinent to the Australian context is useful e.g. http://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/77461/can-intentionally-omitting-related-work-citations-be-considered-as-misconduct. • Different types of training should also be provided.
Question 6: Are the mechanisms for review of an investigation clearly and correctly described in Section 7.6 of the Guide? If not, where are the inaccuracies?: 
This section seems to be deliberately open to interpretation which gives institutions flexibility but carries some risks which are unknown until the Guide has been in use. A timely review of the Guide would be useful. Restoration of a damaged reputation is difficult to achieve despite procedural fairness. Therefore, the importance of confidentiality should be highlighted throughout the investigation, especially in cases where the false allegation was found to be vexatious. While it depends on institutional policies, a question was asked as to whether new or additional evidence could be raised in the event of an appeal – or whether this was excluded by procedural fairness.
Question 7: Please comment on which three topics you would nominate as being the highest priority and why.: 
There should be a Guide on each of the areas listed in this question as well as all the key areas of the Code (e.g. how to monitor conflict of interest behaviour or the application of ethical principles in relation to the Code). It was felt priority should be given to: • A guide on intellectual property and copyright to steer industry-sponsored research. • Advice on the role of Research Integrity Advisors and Research Integrity Offices. As these help to promote, develop and support cultural change, and are often instrumental to assessing or investigating issues, some focus should be given to them. • Compliance of clinical trials to standards to encourage greater uniformity in approaches. • Advice on relationships or complaints that are of an international nature. How do we collaborate with institutions that are not covered by this Code, or any Code or legislation? How do we resolve issues that arise? • A guide on peer review. As the focus on research outputs increases both for promotion of the individual and funding of the institution, so the challenges of issues such as authorship and co-editorship, unconscious bias etc. become more prominent. Perhaps further consideration could be given to a (double) blinded review process e.g. for grant proposal submissions where the names of researchers and their affiliations are masked (including in the title, in-text self-citations, reference list) in the review of scientific merit for best practice.
General comments
Comments: 

In response to the call for feedback on the review of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, Murdoch University sought feedback from each of the Schools, from Research and Innovation, and from our Research Integrity Advisers.

Broadly, we support the developments in this version of the Code, with its associated Guide. We have some minor issues, as specified in the Specific Consultation Questions section, and we would appreciate these being considered in your deliberations. We also provide some editing suggestions below.

 

EDIT SUGGESTIONS AND TYPOS

These are tracked as insertions in bold and as deletions with strikethroughs.

 

Principles of Responsible Research Conduct

P2: Rigour in conducting and reporting high-quality research.

P3: Transparency in making access to data and research materials available, where possible and appropriate, declaring interests, and reporting research methodologies and findings.

P8 (i): Comma missing: Researchers and institutions will promote responsible research conduct principles, and mentor and supervise research trainees and early career researchers.

 

Responsibilities of Institutions

R10: Change of Research Integrity AdvisErs to AdvisOrs – Is this a typo or are these to be remunerated positions?

 

Responsibilities of Researchers

R16: ‘Ensure that  the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) will be considered at  all stages of research involving animals. Act to minimise the impacts on animals used in research and in so doing support the welfare and wellbeing of these animals.’ OR ‘Ensure that the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) will be considered at  all stages of research involving animals. Act to apply the relevant governing principles and ethical framework to minimise the impacts on animals used in research and in so doing support the welfare and wellbeing of these animals.’

R21: Missing comma: Cite and acknowledge other work appropriately and accurately, and obtain permission for the use of unpublished work.

R24: Provide oversight, guidance and mentorship on responsible research conduct to other researchers, or research trainers under their supervision or research assistants/technical officers, and monitor their conduct.

R27: Typo: Delete ‘,’ after ‘Comply with the relevant’.

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018