Implementation of Scientific Integrity Policy in Erasmus MC

Last modified: May 20, 2017

By Rikard Juttmann MD PhD – retired coordinator scientific integrity Erasmus MC

 

In recent years, Dutch universities increased their efforts to enforce scientific integrity considerably. Before, integrity of researchers was considered to be more or less self-evident. After all, academic institutions had all thorough research codes, in which unmistakable integrity rules for scientific conduct were clearly anchored. For exceptional cases of disagreement on integrity issues, confidential counselors – usually eminent elder professors of immaculate reputation – were appointed to mediate. The research codes were made available to scientific staff during enlistment and this was considered to be sufficient to prevent true professionals – as scientists were supposed to be – from moral aberrancies. In 2011, however, because of several notorious cases of academic misconduct in the Netherlands, this (in hindsight maybe naïve) position dramatically changed. Since Erasmus MC was also confronted with serious academic misconduct within its own ranks, in 2012 the dean initiated the design and the implementation of a so called “Action Plan Scientific Integrity (APSI)” in all 52 Erasmus MC academic departments. A coordinator scientific integrity was assigned to manage this policy in close cooperation with the confidential counselor.

The agreements applicable for all departments were:

  1. Each department makes its own APSI.
  2. Each APSI contains at least 15 testable goals, which are applicable for all departments: seven on research culture, two on education and six on digitalization and storage of research data.
  3. The head of department is responsible for the implementation and the execution of the APSI. This document will be signed for approval by the head of department and the dean.
  4. The APSI defines the steps that the department will take to reach the testable goals.
  5. As far as digitalization and storage of research data are concerned, the APSI also defines the logistic and technical bottle necks foreseen by the department and the central support desired for the solution of these bottle necks.
  6. On the basis of the testable goals, the APSI will repeatedly be evaluated and actualized, in cooperation with the coordinator scientific integrity.

The 15 testable goals applicable for all departments

Research culture

  1. The department stimulates awareness of scientific integrity issues, by organizing meetings like roadshows, discussion sessions, seminars etc.
  2. Scientific integrity is regularly placed on the agenda of all sorts of work related meetings including formal personal evaluations.
  3. The department did analyze its possible fragility as far as scientific integrity is concerned. (What aspects of our research are potentially susceptible for scientific misconduct?)
  4. Measures to minimize the department’s fragility as far as scientific integrity is concerned are developed and implemented.
  5. Guidelines are implemented with respect to noticing and raising possible scientific misconduct by department employees. The possibility to approach the Erasmus MC confidential counselor must always be open for all employees.
  6. The Erasmus MC guidelines concerning publishing and authorships (Erasmus MC Research Codes, chapter 1.) are always lived up to.
  7. Measures are implemented that prevent researchers to operate in isolation without systematic justification to, and discussion with, peers within as well as outside the department.
  8.  

    Education

  9. Scientific integrity is incorporated in the department’s education curriculum.
  10. All PhD students follow the one day scientific integrity course, organized by the sub department of Medical Ethics. See link.
  11.  

    Digitalization and storage of Research data

  12. All research data will finally be digitalized in a version suitable for storage in a digital depot.
  13. Each department uses one or more depots, which apply to high standards for durability, accessibility and safety.
  14. For every publication the following documentation is stored in such depots:
    • the publication (in concept) itself
    • the research protocol involved
    • completed and signed informed consent forms (as far as applicable)
    • the collected raw data
    • meta data
    • the (statistic) analysis base
    • analysis results
  15. Data in storage are unchangeable
  16. Data in storage are simply and quickly to be found. In a register the place of storage of all documentation is to be found for each publication.
  17. All data in storage are accessible for (representatives of) the Board of Directors

Erasmus MC has a strong tradition of scientific autonomy allocated within its academic departments. In the past this autonomy also extended to purchasing and managing auxiliary devices, such as data management systems etc. As result of the growing size and complexity of data in modern biomedical science, this way of working became increasingly unpractical and inefficient. This insight became the more obvious as the departments were confronted with the integrity goals for digitalization and storage of research data as mentioned above. Only by using central facilities at institution level (and sometimes even exceeding that level) departments were able to meet the responsibilities resulting from these goals. So, as a side effect of implementation of the science integrity policy, an important impulse was given to development and acceptation of up-to-date, standardized, centrally organized data management devices in Erasmus MC.

During 2014 and 2015 the APSI of all Erasmus MC departments were evaluated and actualized several times. Results were presented to and approved by the dean. The general conclusion is that, across the board, interest in and enforcement of scientific integrity within Erasmus MC has passed through a tremendous positive impulse. Starting in 2016 surveillance of scientific integrity policy will be dedicated to the Erasmus MC central audit organization (Sector Audit).

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