SfN Global Collaboration on Responsible Scientific Communication
Since its inception, SfN has taken seriously its role in promoting the responsible conduct of research and scientific communication within the neuroscience community. Most recently, this has included adoption of a set of revised policies and guidelines related to responsible conduct in scientific communications, the use of animals in research, and dealing with allegations of scientific misconduct. Concerns around issues of scientific ethics — of fostering healthy scientific research culture and practice — have become increasingly prominent around the world and across scientific disciplines.
As part of its strategy to promote research ethics and responsible conduct within the global neuroscience community, during the summer of 2011 SfN collaborated with the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO), the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), the Japan Neuroscience Society (JNS), and the Chinese Neuroscience Society (CNS) to organize three educational programs on responsible scientific communication.
Ethics Symposium at IBRO World Congress
The first of these was a symposium on the "Ethics of Scientific Publishing — Why Does It Matter? Advice from Editors of Neuroscience Journals" at the 8th IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience in Florence, Italy, on July 17. The symposium, co-sponsored by SfN and IBRO, featured presentations by the editors-in-chief of the FENS, IBRO, JNS, and SfN journals on the ethical considerations for authors when preparing articles for submission. The IBRO Congress, attended by 4,200 neuroscientists from around the world, provided an excellent venue for reaching a broad international audience.
SfN Councilor Nancy Ip, who was a member of SfN's Responsible Conduct Working Group, served as moderator and opened the session with an introduction on the importance of responsible conduct and common causes of misconduct — including career pressure, conflicts of interest, and lack of understanding of established guidelines. Stephen Lisberger, chief editor of IBRO's Neuroscience, presented on problems associated with authorship, including policies on dual submission and duplicate publication.
Jean-Marc Fritschy, co-editor-in-chief of FENS's European Journal of Neuroscience, discussed plagiarism and copyright issues, describing how advances in plagiarism detection technology have led to a surge in new cases. JNS's Neuroscience Research editor-in-chief, Atsushi Iriki, presented cases involving fabrication and falsification of images, figures, and data. Finally, SfN's The Journal of Neuroscience editor-in-chief, John Maunsell, offered his experience working with authors and their institutions in handling misconduct cases and highlighted how certain types of misconduct may result in career-damaging consequences.
The audience of about 200 attendees engaged in a lively Q&A session with the panelists, who provided additional examples of misconduct cases as well as helpful educational and informational resources on the topic.
Workshop at Peking University
Ten days later, SfN and the CNS conducted a workshop in Beijing, entitled "Responsible Scientific Communication: Guidelines for Getting Published," for a group of 52 neuroscientists (graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty) from 17 different universities and institutes throughout China, from as far as away as Guangzhou and Chengdu.
Held July 27-28, 2012, the workshop was organized by SfN and CNS, and hosted by Peking University, with SfN-supported instructors from the University of Pittsburgh Beth Fischer and Michael Zigmond. Fischer and Zigmond have conducted similar workshops around the world, and Zigmond has served on SfN's Responsible Conduct Working Group. The workshop provided step-by-step, practical instructions on preparing an article for publication as well as presenting research at conferences and meetings.
Students learned about the article review process, how to plan and format a research article, and select a journal for submission. The training was infused with examples of errors to avoid — highlighting issues of authorship, plagiarism, and fabrication. Participants also learned how to prepare for an oral poster session and best practices for developing PowerPoint presentations to effectively present their research.
Workshop attendees found particularly useful the small, facilitated breakout groups where participants engaged in animated discussions around real-world scenarios of ethical dilemmas related to scientific research. One scenario centered on the issue of sharing reagents and another on the question of sharing unpublished research results.
Chinese Neuroscience Society Symposium
The Beijing workshop was organized to precede the CNS annual meeting held in Zhengzhou, China, where SfN and CNS co-sponsored a symposium entitled "Being a Successful Scientist: The Importance of Responsible Conduct." The session featured four speakers offering varying perspectives on the growing challenge of scientific misconduct worldwide and what is being done by scientific societies, journal editors, and academic institutions to address the problem.
Ip provided an overview of the issues and described recent efforts of SfN's Responsible Conduct Working Group to update and revise SfN's responsible conduct guidelines. Emilie Marcus offered perspectives as editor-in-chief of Cell, sharing her experience handling cases of plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification, and working with authors and institutions to address allegations of misconduct.
Guoqiang Bi of the University of Science and Technology of China in Anhui presented examples of the growing problem of scientific misconduct in China and what Chinese organizations such as the National Natural Research Foundation of China are doing to address it. SfN Past President Susan Amara rounded out the presentations by discussing the important role faculty and lab directors can play as mentors to help the next generation of scientists understand the policies and guidelines that should inform the conduct and communication of their research.
Several hundred conference attendees in the audience engaged in an active discussion with panelists following the presentations. Attendees pointed out the need to think about ways of educating faculty in addition to students. They also described some of the pressures they face — including family and financial concerns — that contribute to the problem.
Promoting Responsible Conduct Globally
Looking to the future, SfN is working with Zigmond and Fischer to develop a training manual that will be available online for use by instructors at academic institutions around the world. The manual will provide a resource that draws on SfN's Guidelines on Responsible Conduct for Scientific Communication, guidelines from NIH and NSF in the United States, and those produced by other countries. The resource will contain training modules that include ethics case studies and practical exercises to stimulate discussion and greater understanding.
SfN also plans to use existing and new collaborations with funding agencies and other national neuroscience societies to explore further opportunities to promote education and awareness about responsible scientific communication in the United States and globally. Lessons learned from the pilot workshop in Beijing will be used to inform future training efforts.