by Judith Curry
Researchers need to communicate the policy implications of their results clearly and comprehensively to policy makers and the public—including a clear assessment of the uncertainties associated with their results—while avoiding advocacy based on their authority as researchers.
In January 2012, I was invited to make a presentation to the InterAcademy Council Project on Research Integrity and Scientific Responsibility:
- Questions on research integrity and scientific responsibility.
- Questions on research integrity and scientific responsibility: Part II
The outcome of the IAC Project is provided in this Report (published September 2012) entitled Responsible Conduct in the Global Research Enterprise: A Policy Report. The 62-page document is an important one, and well worth reading. I excerpt here some text that is germane to issues that I have been discussing related to the integrity of research, notably these recent posts:
Excerpts from the IAC report:
Overview of Research Values
Responsible conduct in research is based on many of the same human values that apply in daily life, but these values have specific implications in the context of research. The discussion in this guide draws on seven overlapping fundamental values:
In research, being honest implies doing research and communicating about research results and their possible applications fully and without deception, whether of others or oneself.
Being fair means treating others with respect and consideration, whether in citing a colleague’s ideas in a paper or mentoring a student in the proper conduct of research. In research—as in life—scientists and scholars should treat others as they hope and expect to be treated in return.
Objectivity implies that researchers try to look beyond their own preconceptions and biases to the empirical evidence that justifies conclusions. Researchers cannot totally eliminate the influence of their own perspectives from their work, but they can strive to be as objective as possible.
Research communities over many years have developed methods to enhance the reliability of the results they obtain, and researchers have an obligation to adhere to these methods or demonstrate that an alternative approach does not reduce the reliability of research results. degree of skepticism toward research results and conclusions so that results and explanations are continually reexamined and improved.
Researchers are accountable to other researchers, to the broader society, and to nature. If challenged, they cannot appeal to authority but must demonstrate that their results or statements are reliable.
Finally, researchers need to be open with others for research to progress. All researchers deserve to work independently as they balance the competing considerations of “what if?” and “what if I am wrong?” But they ultimately need to convey to others their conclusions and the evidence and reasoning on which their conclusions are based so that those conclusions can be examined and extended. This requires careful storage of data and making data available to colleagues whenever possible.
The primacy of these seven values explains why trust is a fundamental characteristic of the research enterprise. Researchers expect that their colleagues will act in accord with these values. When a researcher violates one of the values, that person’s trustworthiness is diminished among other researchers. In addition, the public’s trust in research can be damaged, with harmful effects on the entire research community.
JC comment: I like the idea of introducing research values in this report, not just cautioning against falsification, fabrication and plagiarism. These values provide a report card for researchers to be graded against.
Communicating with Policy Makers and the Public
The public’s trust in research depends on the honesty, openness, and objectivity of researchers in communicating the results of research to those outside the research community. This responsibility can take time away from research, but public communication is essential given the pervasive influence of research on the broader society.
Researchers have the same rights as all other people in expressing their opinions and seeking to influence public policy. But researchers must be especially careful to distinguish their roles as specialists and as advocates. Researchers who choose to be advocates have a special responsibility to themselves and to the research community to be very open and honest about the support for the statements they make. Researchers should resist speaking or writing with the authority of science or scholarship on complex, unresolved topics outside their areas of expertise. Researchers can risk their credibility by becoming advocates for public policy issues that can be resolved only with inputs from outside the research community.
A particular problem is communicating uncertainties or probabilities clearly and comprehensively. Statistical evidence can be counterintuitive or poorly grounded. Moreover, uncertainty about measured quantities differs from the uncertainties associated with model calculations. A particular need is for cogent theory and explicit methodology in integrating uncertainty estimates across studies inside the same discipline but with different starting points.
At the same time, all researchers have information of value that they can convey to policy makers and the public, and researchers are particularly well suited to act as honest brokers to untangle basic facts from economic, social, and political considerations. Today, new tools of communication such as blogs and videos are providing innovative ways for researchers to engage with the public. New communication tools also are enabling the development of peer communities around issues of regulatory or policy relevance. The widespread dissemination of solid peer-reviewed information benefits both research and the society in which research is embedded.
Recommendation: Researchers need to communicate the policy implications of their results clearly and comprehensively to policy makers and the public—including a clear assessment of the uncertainties associated with their results—while avoiding advocacy based on their authority as researchers.
Researchers often are called upon to serve as advisers to governments, industry, or nongovernmental organizations. This advice can be extremely influential and must avoid bias or parochialism.
Documents generated by researchers to provide advice differ from research articles, but they, too, are based on evidence and reason. These documents should be peer reviewed to bring the quality control mechanisms of research to bear on public and private advice. If formal peer review is not possible, informal consultations with peers, including those who would be expected to be critical, may be necessary.
Recommendation: Scientific policy advice to governments, industry, or nongovernmental organizations should undergo peer review and should not be made from an advocacy perspective.
JC comments: These are common-sense and sage guidelines from the IAC. In terms of advocacy by scientists, the perspectives of JC and Tamsin seem more consistent with the IAC than the perspective of Gavin Schmidt. I find it useful to remind ourselves on these issues as we prepare to evaluate the forthcoming IPCC Report. And wouldn’t it be great if the IPCC lead authors could take some time from what must be enormously hectic schedules to read this report as they prepare their final Summary for Policy Makers.