June 18, 2012

Carrie Bebermeyer

SLU Designs New Program to Help Institutions Address Research Wrongdoing

ST.LOUIS -- A $500,000 grant to Saint Louis University's Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics will fund the first ever remediation program to aid institutions when they discover researchers who have engaged in wrongdoing or unprofessional behavior. The Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research (RePAIR) program is expected to launch in November 2012.

James DuBois, Ph.D., D.Sc.

The one-year grant from the National Institutes of Health comes to SLU through its partnership with the Washington University Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

"Maintaining the public's trust and support is critical to the success of research. As the first program of its kind aimed at correcting problematic research practices, RePAIR will provide an important mechanism to support ethical researcher practices and maintain the public's trust," said Raymond Tait, Ph.D., vice president for research at SLU and a member of the RePAIR advisory committee.

James DuBois, Ph.D., D.Sc., project director and the Hubert Maeder Professor of Health Care Ethics at SLU, and his team kicked off the project in January with a needs assessment that was sent to 194 medical schools and comprehensive doctoral institutions. When responses were received from the individuals responsible for overseeing both research integrity and human subjects protections, 96 percent of institutions had investigated credible cases of wrongdoing in the past two years. Rates varied widely from none to more than 15 cases, with most individuals reporting three to five cases. Offenses ranged from minimal procedure violations to more extreme cases of data falsification, fabrication or plagiarism.

"The results of the assessment confirmed that wrongdoing in research is a widespread problem. It also highlighted the fact that institutions have very few options for responding to these cases," DuBois said.

Overall, the consequences for the accused researcher are minimal. According to DuBois, on one extreme, researchers get a slap on the wrist -- the institution issues a letter of reprimand and may increase oversight of the wrongdoer. Some institutions also offer limited internal training for researchers accused of wrongdoing. Universities can choose to fire the researcher, but this has financial implications including the loss of grant funding and the elimination of support positions. Only 30 percent of institutions that responded to the needs assessment indicated that they were very satisfied with their options for responding to research wrongdoing.

"We're hoping the RePAIR program will provide a good middle ground. It will be a substantial educational program that addresses the major causes of research wrongdoing and fosters good research practices and decision making skills," DuBois said.

"No one has ever attempted a formal program like this for researchers, but we're inspired by the success of physician remediation programs at the University of California San Diego and at Vanderbilt University, which have demonstrated that remediation programs can work."

About the program
The RePAIR program will offer two courses. The first course, RePAIRing Research Integrity, will address a variety of research integrity violations including falsification or fabrication of data, plagiarism, conflict of interest violations, fraud, questionable research practices and mentoring or oversight failures.

The second course, RePAIRing Human Subjects Protections, will address offenses such as informed consent violation, inadequate management of risks, improper recruitment or enrollment and privacy and confidentiality violations.

After completing a preliminary online assessment and education module, participants in both courses will attend a three and a half day onsite workshop that will focus on promoting thinking patterns, decision making skills and work habits that support ethical research. Each participant will leave the program with an individualized work management plan to implement as they return to their institutions. Participation in the program will be confidential.

The RePAIR program is being developed by a team of psychologists and ethicists including DuBois and John Chibnall, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at SLU; Elizabeth Heitman, Ph.D., associate professor of medical ethics at Vanderbilt University; and Michael Mumford, Ph.D., professor of industrial-organizational psychology and director of the Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Oklahoma. Tessa Gauzy serves as program coordinator.

RePAIR's advisory committee, which has played a major role in shaping the program, includes experts who lead remediation training programs with physicians, liaisons from national organizations, including the American Association of Medical Colleges and the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, lawyers, clinical psychologists and research administrators. The RePAIR program will be offered in cooperation with the office of research at SLU.

For more information about the program, contact the coordinator at repair@slu.edu.

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit university ranked among the top research institutions in the nation. The University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students. Founded in 1818, it is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and the second oldest Jesuit university in the United States. Through teaching, research, health care and community service, Saint Louis University has provided one-of-a-kind education, leadership and service for nearly two centuries.

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