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With a common understanding we create better research

AU is working to establish common guidelines for responsible research practice. The academic council at Health has just discussed the discussion paper from the Talent Development Committee, and here you can find out what a researcher has to say about why the guidelines are so important.

Bente Nyvad is Professor at the Department of Dentistry and a member of the Academic Council, Health. She has worked as a researcher for more than 35 years and has on several occasions experienced uncertainty and conflicts that could have been avoided.

”I only wish that the university had such a set of guidelines for responsible research practice back in 1999. It was here the Dandy case ran in the media. This was about a company that wanted to censor scientific research findings and the outcome of the case was fortunately positive for my part. But it was an unpleasant situation that neither the university nor I were equipped to handle,” says Bente Nyvad.

We must take care of the young researchers

”Responsible research practice is and has always been an integral part of my work. When I was a PhD student there was a different culture and you were closely connected to your supervisor. This was peer-to-peer training or a kind of apprenticeship, where you learned the rules of the game from your professor. You learned basic values and the principles of good research,” says Bente Nyvad.

This is not necessarily how things are today, where the university employs many more PhD students and where one supervisor can have multiple affiliated PhD students.

”The young researchers stand on their own two feet to a greater extent than previously. And at the same time, research as a profession has become more complex. We must therefore think in other terms and, for example, introduce compulsory courses in responsible research practice - perhaps already at Master's degree level,” says Bente Nyvad.

An old dog can also learn new tricks

But it is not only the younger researchers who need something lean on. This applies to all researchers. As part of the general common guidelines at Health a draft of a range of subject specific standards and checklists has recently been drawn-up, which all of the researchers can hopefully benefit from once they are completed.

”I can also learn something from reading the document, even though I have been in this business for many years. I believe that everyone can benefit from this. With this as part of the toolbox I am certain that we will be able to avoid some conflicts in the future,” says Bente Nyvad. 

We cannot eliminate academic dishonesty, but we can take precautionary measures

Bente Nyvad also makes a number of comparisons between the existing work on responsible research practice and the cooperation agreements that were drawn-up in the wake of the Dandy case.

”It is not more than a couple of years ago that I experienced a company who suddenly wanted to withdraw from a publication shortly before it was sent to printing. We had fortunately entered into a contract. One of the cooperation agreements that the university draws-up when industry is involved in the research. And they could therefore not do anything. There was no unpleasant aftermath,” says Bente Nyvad.

The increasing internationalisation and the requirement for a more interdisciplinary approach help to emphasise the importance of clear agreements and common understanding in scientific work. As a researcher you have to be able to build bridges and collaborate across boundaries. Not just with other research environments at AU and in Denmark in general, but also in relation to other cultures, both here and in other countries. And with this task, new challenges also follow.

”AU's standards for cooperation agreements with industry create greater security in our daily work as researchers. And if we can transfer our experiences here to the current work with responsible research practice, then we will take a good step forward. But irrespective of how many guidelines the university defines, we will never be able to completely remove the concept of scientific dishonesty. On the other hand, I think that the recommendations can have a preventive effect,” concludes Bente Nyvad.

Facts about responsible research practice at AU

Based on new national and international guidelines and recommendations, Aarhus University is updating its policy for responsible research practice. In connection with this, the senior management team has sent out a discussion paper prepared by the Talent Development Committee. This was sent to the main academic areas, committees and forums at the beginning of September 2013, and it formed the foundation for the autumn discussions of common guidelines for responsible research practice at Aarhus University.

The responses that were received are currently being processed before the senior management team adopts a new policy for responsible research practice in March 2014.

Read more about responsible research practice at AU's website. Here you can also find the discussion paper (PDF) that was discussed by the academic councils from the main academic areas, as well as Health's draft standards for responsible research practice (PDF, Danish).