Academics seek to restore the integrity of science and research

Since taking office in January, President Joe Biden has reaffirmed his national commitment to scholarly and research integrity, appointing scientists to numerous leadership positions.

Educators and experts applaud these nominations and say that elevating intellectual integrity in research and science will also require the combined efforts of academia, industry and the public.

Biden appointed Eric Lander – who in 2001 was the first author of an article published in the scientific journal Nature who announced the sequencing of the human genome – at the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Biden raised the post to Cabinet level for the first time.

“How do we deal with the pressures on university research labs and promote creative models for federal research support?” »Asked the president in his January 15 letter announcing Lander’s appointment.

Some experts say that with the change of presidential administration in the United States, now is the time for universities and research to revise their standards, especially as the validity of the science is sometimes called into question.

“Many Americans view scientific facts as fake news, aimed at promoting a liberal progressive agenda,” Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, told VOA. “Higher education, more than ever, must be a visible force in the communities we seek to serve, demonstrating our relevance to the day-to-day concerns of people within those communities. ”

Earl Lewis, professor of history, African American and African studies at the University of Michigan and founding director of the university’s Center for Social Solutions, said he was responding to suspicions about higher education by asking to the skeptics if they preferred the doctor who finished first in their promotion. or whoever finished last.

“Nobody raises a hand” for the bottom of the class, Lewis said. “And I say, ‘So you value education.’ Why is it that some of us with higher education are seen as part of the enemy class, rather than the class that can provide solutions to the problems we all face? ”

For Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the Retraction Watch website, the lack of quality scholarship in publishing research and reporting errors is part of the problem. Retractions are part of the solution, reporting information in published work “that is no longer reliable”, describing it as “the kind of nuclear option for correction in, in science or in academia, at large, has he told VOA.

“To what extent are researchers, journals, universities, funding agencies ready to actually correct the case and talk about it? Asked Oransky.

But failure to correct the case leads to greater distrust of the data, Oransky said, and that includes scientific journals as well as the mainstream press that reports findings with mass public impact.

“When I look at an informational website, I’m actually a lot more likely to trust them if I see any fixes running,” he said. “Look at the amount of information circulating on this news website. You would expect a certain percentage to be just a mistake, not because people tried to make a mistake, but because we are humans, we make mistakes.

“If I read a website I see they never posted a correction, I run the other way around,” he said.

Rohin Francis, a British cardiologist, said that some kind of overzealousness has contributed to the erosion of public confidence in scholarship and education. He calls those who have good intentions but lack precision in social media posts and memes, the “Yay Science!” ” crowd.

“I myself am a cheerleader for science,” he said on his YouTube channel Medlife Crisis, “but I am fully aware of the complex way we progress, the missteps, the human biases. that overlap with discovery and implementation, corruption, and just the very erratic quality of the published material. Science is a messy business.

Speaking at a video news event Jan. 14 for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, called scientific research “fundamentally important to future quality of life in America and for America’s position in the world. ”

But “research is seriously under-prioritized” in the United States, while other countries like China are advancing, he said.

Augustine cited former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in pursuit of China’s technological supremacy.

“The story of modernization is in essence a story of scientific and technological progress. Scientific discoveries and technological inventions have spawned new civilizations, modern industries, and the rise and fall of nations. I firmly believe that science is the ultimate revolution ”, Augustin said, citing Jiabao.

“China sets goals for science,” Augustine said. “In addition, they are achieving these goals. … China has already overtaken the United States in terms of the number of doctorates it grants in science and engineering. Additionally, 19% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in America are awarded in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math.

“In China, more than half are awarded in these fields,” he said.

The United States, however, “can certainly compete in innovation, doing our research more effectively, factors like that,” he added.

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