AAMC Spotlights RCR

The Sept 2007 issue of Academic Medicine is devoted to topics related to responsible conduct of research training. One of the articles, “What Do Mentoring and Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research Have To Do with Scientists’ Misbehavior? Findings from a National Survey of NIH-Funded Scientists,” comes from Brian Martinson‘s group, whose work is keenly interesting. Abstract below – I’m looking forward to studying these data in relation to their prior articles in the evenings ahead (yes, I have no life).

Purpose: The authors examine training in the responsible conduct of research and mentoring in relation to behaviors that may compromise the integrity of science.

Method: The analysis is based on data from the authors’ 2002 national survey of 4,160 early-career and 3,600 midcareer biomedical and social science researchers who received research support from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The authors used logistic regression analysis to examine associations between receipt of separate or integrated training in research ethics, mentoring related to ethics and in general, and eight categories of ethically problematic behavior. Analyses controlled for gender, type of doctoral degree, international degree, and disciplinary field.

Results: Responses were received from 1,479 early-career and 1,768 midcareer scientists, yielding adjusted response rates of 43% and 52%, respectively. Results for early-career researchers: Training in research ethics was positively associated with problematic behavior in the data category. Mentoring related to ethics and research, as well as personal mentoring, decreased the odds of researchers’ engaging in problematic behaviors, but mentoring on financial issues and professional survival increased these odds. Results for midcareer researchers: Combined separate and integrated training in research ethics was associated with decreased odds of problematic behavior in the categories of policy, use of funds, and cutting corners. Ethics mentoring was associated with lowered odds of problematic behavior in the policy category.

Conclusions: The effectiveness of training in obviating problematic behavior is called into question. Mentoring has the potential to influence behavior in ways that both increase and decrease the likelihood of problematic behaviors.


  1. whimple said

    I’m intrigued by some of the “questionable behaviours” reported by some of the respondents. For example:

    “Modifying research directions or agendas to fit the priorities of funders”

    This is wrong?

  2. writedit said

    This line is not included in any of the prior publications that cite these data. However, Martinson does discuss the potential influence of industry in realigning a the interests of a scientist with the interests of the company (Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 2006).

    Sheldon Krimsky and Catherine D’Angelis (JAMA editor) both cite multiple studies demonstrating a direct alignment of results of industry-funded research with the desired outcome of the sponsor industry. A JAMA 2003 report found a statistically significant association between industry sponsorship and pro-industry conclusions (pooled Mantel-Haenszel odds ratio, 3.60; 95% confidence interval, 2.63-4.91; also see some of Sheldon’s slides for more examples.

    So – I suspect this is less a situation of calling the NIH program officer to tweak your investigator-initiated specific aims to match their priorities and portfolio needs and more one of recasting your research goals to be attractive to an industry sponsor (perhaps a precursor to the point on changing design-methodology-results in response to pressure from a funding source). However, I’ll request clarification and post any response I receive.

  3. writedit said

    Per the lead author, this item is “intended to reflect a situation in which a researcher compromises the quality of a research project in order to get funded.”

    And in response to my query about future papers: “We indeed do have several more papers in the pipeline. The first is an analysis of focus-group data on the topic of competition and its effects on science. The second is an extension of the traditional Mertonian norms of science. The third examines normative dissonance, as well as contextual effects on subscription to norms. We also have several more in progress.”

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