May the “SOURCE” be with you – By Rich Klimoski
At the time of this writing I am pleased to be able to point out that the School of Business has initiated or supported many activities aimed at promoting faculty research. The articles in this newsletter provide details on several of these. However I want to leverage my role as the Associate Dean for Research to use this Newsletter to inform you of still another initiative that is underway, one that has implications for the culture of the School. This relates to the goal of ensuring that we, as faculty in the School of Business, are always committed to what is being called “responsible research.” Efforts in support of this initiative include the use of a survey tool titled as the “SOURCE.”
It may come as no surprise to many of you that the reputation of science and scientific research in America has suffered recently. While there are several reasons for this it is thought by many to be driven by concerns about research integrity. As noted in a recent book on this topic published by the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine (2017):
“… the research enterprise [in America] faces serious challenges in creating the appropriate conditions to foster and sustain the highest standards of [research] integrity.”
To address this national challenge the authors of this report go on to recommend that:
“In order to better align the realities of research with its values and ideals, all stakeholders to the research enterprise… should significantly improve and update their practices and policies to respond to the threats to research integrity identified in this report.”
Under the leadership of Aurali Dade, Associate Vice-Provost for Research Innovation, George Mason has chosen to do just this.
As a starting point for this initiative, Vice-Provost Dade has hosted a series of workshops involving senior research administrators at Mason, including the Associate Deans for Research for all of its academic units. In addition to reviewing data on the prevalence and negative impact of egregious examples of research misconduct (e.g. actually falsifying data) we were briefed in depth on what those involved in studying such phenomena are referring to as “questionable research practices” (QRP’s). These are actions taken (or not taken) by scientists that do not rise to the level of fraud or illegality, but do, collectively, imply a research culture that is at risk.
As a result of these workshops each representative of the 11 academic units at Mason is being charged with leading discussions with his or her set of research faculty about the challenges that have to be confronted when it comes to ensuring research integrity. Moreover, when appropriate, we are also expected to initiate recommendations about how best to address how we might go about doing this. The goal is to achieve and maintain the highest standards for research being carried out by our faculty at Mason.
The workshop also provided us with some tools to assist in this effort. For example, we were given examples of checklists of “best practices.” An example of one of these which is directed at researchers can be found in this newsletter. However, as implied, an additional and major resource being made available to us is a survey instrument referred to as the “SOURCE” (The Survey of Organizational Research Climate). This survey tool is a commercially obtainable product offered by the National Center of Professional and Research Ethics located at the University of Illinois. The survey and related services is designed to provide academic leaders with a picture of the research culture at their School and is constructed so as to reveal if School culture does or does not support responsible research. A copy of the items of this survey can be found in our web site.
Many of you might recall participating in inaugural administration of this survey at Mason earlier in this semester. We are told that this is the first of what is planned to be the repeated use of the survey over the years to come. The data from the first administration will thus serve as a baseline. As such it will allow us to identify changes or trends regarding our research culture at Mason over time as these may be influenced by such things as our research-related policies, practices or initiatives.
Along these lines, each of the ADRs at Mason has been briefed on the results of this first time administration of the survey as completed by their School’s faculty. We were invited to make use of these results in any way possible to promote research integrity among the faculty in our academic units. Toward this end I will set up a session during the fall semester to go over the (largely positive) results of the survey. During this session I will invite those who can attend to contribute their thoughts as to what we can learn from the first administration. If warranted, we will also discuss what actions we might need to take in order to better ensure that the research culture of our School is not only supportive of the highest quality scholarship but that it also holds us accountable for doing our work according to the highest ethical standards.
In closing I encourage you to think of this note as reminder of our ideals when it comes to research integrity. It can also serve as a preview of things to come. If you can at least embrace these as your “takeaways” then indeed, “the SOURCE will be with you.”
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