REPAIR: Addressing Wrongdoing in Academic Research

The Midwest regional meeting for NCURA opened with a fantastic presentation: Understanding and Responding to Wrongdoing in Research.

The speaker, Dr. James DuBois from St. Louis University discussed his research and the development of a program called REPAIR: Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research based on his R21. The foundation of his presentation was the idea that most investigators who have committed wrongdoing are good people who have made bad decisions, and indeed, the audience identified many career pressures and environmental factors that would impact an investigator’s behavior.

He discussed the need to address the impact of wrongdoing in research (more than falsification, fabrication and plagiarism), and that we need to think more broadly than fraud in sponsored research to “wrongdoing” because of the ways that this behavior can impact our institutions.

Wrongdoing in research includes human subjects violations, COI, misuse of funds, failure to protect data, failure to report serious adverse events, and thefts of data, among other types of activity. Dr. DuBois and his colleagues conducted an institution-based needs assessment and a literature review as part of their research and found that the causes of wrongdoing are complex, and that common institutional responses to these situations are inadequate to prevent recidivism.

Interestingly, while 78% of investigators involved in high profile cases were found to have repeated their behaviors (sometimes at other institutions) DuBois estimates that as many as 2/3 could benefit from an active intervention.

Some of the common investigator characteristics that have been identified in case reviews:

  1. Substandard forecasting skills
  2. Poor time management skills.
  3. Poor manager of resources, staff, data, supplies (lab).
  4. Unable to manage stress or deal with obstacles.
  5. Commonly avoided systems they felt mistreated or badly served by (IRB, etc.)
  6. Strong sense of entitlement.
  7. Difficulty with anticipating outcomes when making decisions.
  8. Difficulty with managing emotions.

REPAIR is a research-based intervention that aims to understand frequency and types of investigations at universities, the institutional responses, and use data to design a program to provide strategies that reduce recidivism and maintain the investigator’s role at the institution. REPAIR is set to launch later this year, but the data summarized here are interesting for research administrators.

The ways that we help our faculty manage their relationships with central offices, and the extent that we can advocate on their behalf (we may know that what we are asking is not allowed, but to help faculty feel heard, we should ask anyway) is valuable. In addition, everything we do to help faculty manage their time, finances and projects, all contributes to helping to manage their stress levels.

To learn more, DuBois’ paper on REPAIR will be in the journal Ethics and Behavior in May 2012.

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