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

Personal Details
This submission reflects the views of
Organisation Name: 
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
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?: 
ANSTO supports the new document structure of a principles-based Code with more detailed supporting guides to offer direction on implementation. It brings the Code in line with international best practice as outlined in the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity and the Montreal Statement on Research Integrity in cross-boundary research collaborations. ANSTO also supports the delineation of responsibilities between an institution and researchers in the Code.
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?: 
The Code can be applied to the varied research disciplines which are undertaken at ANSTO, namely human health, the environment and nuclear fuel cycle and all research carried out at ANSTO's research infrastructure platforms such as the Australian Synchrotron and Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering.
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.: 
ANSTO supports the approach of using the term “breach” instead of “research misconduct” since breaches may fall on a spectrum and the type and severity of any breach would determine the type of investigation required. Although ANSTO acknowledges that minor breaches may often not be intentional, ANSTO submits that the draft Guide could have a stronger emphasis on prevention of unintentional breaches. For example, in instances where there are irreproducible results or biased data interpretation. Cultivating a research culture is also important, so that where there are no results or unexpected negative results, these are acceptable. At the same time, increasing the awareness that even minor inconsistencies could be a breach could significantly increase the quality of scientific output and reduce research misconduct. Guidance on correcting errors or mistakes in published articles would be useful since this practice among differing journals is not dealt with consistently.
Question 4: Do you think the process described for investigating and managing potential breaches of the Code is clearly described and practical?: 
ANSTO supports the recommendations regarding the suggested investigation process, recognising it is practical and implementable. The pictorial representation of flow-charts for the investigative process supported by tables with well-defined key roles is particularly helpful. ANSTO acknowledges that the make-up of a review panel in such situations would be key. ANSTO supports the changes in language from “allegation” to “complaint or concern”. The ability to consider complaints without an official allegation is also useful as it would enable ANSTO to act on any concerns of research misconduct which may have been raised, even in the absence of an official allegation. Similarly, ANSTO is also supportive of the flexibility to dismiss complaints at any stage of the investigation. ANSTO supports the Appendix with standard templates which allows for consistent reporting.
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.: 
ANSTO would support the development of case studies. Specific examples of cases studies that would be of benefit to ANSTO include instances where publications have international contributors, are cross-disciplinary in nature or need to assign authorship based on seniority.
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?: 
“Outcomes from the preliminary assessment” of the Code draft states that the preliminary assessment report should include a number of things including any admission from the respondent. To promote procedural fairness, ANSTO suggests the report should also include any mitigating factors alleged or established during the preliminary assessment (e.g. inexperience, unintentional breach).
Question 7: Please comment on which three topics you would nominate as being the highest priority and why.: 
Development of the following additional guides would be of benefit to ANSTO (shown in order of priority): 1. Authorship ANSTO is one of Australia’s largest public research organisations whose core mission is to conduct research and development in relation to nuclear science and technology for the benefit of Australia. A feature that distinguishes ANSTO from other research organisations is custodianship of key Australian landmark and national research infrastructure. ANSTO owns and operates a range of globally competitive research infrastructure platforms that are used by more than 5,000 Australian and international researchers annually. This infrastructure supports capabilities in materials development, synthesis and characterisation, isotope tracing in natural systems, radiotracer and radiochemistry development, radiobiology and bioimaging, environmental impact, standards and metrology. ANSTO’s researchers provide significant support to ANSTO’s 5,000 Australian and international researchers. ANSTO invests significant time and expertise in building instruments and setting up user experiment conditions to enable users to conduct measurements on ANSTO infrastructure efficiently and in the time allocated to the user. ANSTO therefore expects its researchers be recognised in publications relying on ANSTO research infrastructure. Given this context, ANSTO would welcome a Guide on what manner of contribution towards research results is indicative of being listed as an author on a paper. Such a guide would provide a consistent and fair mechanism for dealing with authorship on publications involving multiple research bodies with varied contributions. Such a guide would support the current draft of the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap by facilitating access to broader collaborative projects to deliver higher impact research. A Guide would also address the differing disciplinary approaches to authorship practices (e.g. physics compared with biology) as well as inconsistencies between institutional practices. For example, in some instances, authors are listed alphabetically whilst in others, authors are listed in rank order based on contribution. Then again, it is not uncommon for the most senior author to be listed last. 2. Data Management The Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda recognises the importance of proper data management. This includes addressing issues of long-term storage, annotation, curation and provenance tracking. ANSTO would welcome the development of a guide on data management which outlines a minimum set of requirements that should be met. The guide should also address best practice data management for collaborative research efforts involving multiple parties, with particular guidance on practices involving industry participants. ANSTO suggests that such a guide should addresses data that is produced in research activities. This data could be further defined into two categories: raw data and analysed data as this distinction will enable ANSTO to comply with current legislation and guidelines. Consideration could also be given to referencing codes used for analysis of the raw data. Guidance is also needed on how to appropriately manage raw data collected by facilities such as ANSTO, who actually “possess” the raw data. Raw data is generally not very useful to external users since the expertise to interpret the data resides with ANSTO staff, who have access to specialised programs, licences and hardware required to process the raw data. Many overseas facilities assert ownership rights over all data created using its facilities. While ANSTO has generally avoided asserting ownership over data taken at its landmark facilities, as a federally-funded facility, ANSTO usually requires acknowledgement of its contribution (via its expertise and data interpretation as well as other in-kind contributions).
General comments

ANSTO makes the following additional comments on the draft Code and Guide:

(a)    Clarify the standard of evidence required (p 7) 

ANSTO suggests that the reference to “…evidence of a potential breach of the Code” in the flowchart at page 7 should be prefaced with the words “sufficient” or “satisfactory” to clarify the standard required to be reached before progressing to a full investigation. This would enable a smoother transition away from the ‘prima facie’ language in the current Code and provide clarification that a certain level of evidence is still required before an investigation is initiated.


(b)   Clarify options for legal representation (p 16)

The draft Code seeks to limit an organisation in seeking advice from legal counsel to matters of process only. This may have inadvertent consequences in that advice sought from alternative sources may not have the same protections as that provided by legal counsel, such as having legal professional privilege in discovery proceedings.


ANSTO suggests the following amendment to address this issue (please refer to page 16 of the draft Code):

“[l]egal counsel may be engaged to assist the Panel on matters of process only but would not be present during interviews with the respondent, complainant or others who appear before the panel. Legal counsel should not be engaged to represent any of the parties involved in the investigation”

ANSTO submits that legal representation should be available to all parties  in more complex matters, particularly those that may have more significant consequences.


(c)    Clarity of obligations between researchers and organisations (Principle 7)

ANSTO suggests improving the clarity of the statement regarding accountability for the conduct of research. Namely, the second point “Researchers will consider the consequences and outcomes of research prior to its communication.” The use of the word “consider” in this section is ambiguous. Does it simply mean taking a moment to contemplate the consequences and outcomes even if those considerations are then dismissed? It is unclear to what amount and type of “consideration” will be sufficient to absolve the researcher from breaching the Code. ANSTO suggests that the wording be changed to “Researchers and institutions….” to share the accountability.

Page reviewed: 17 September, 2018