Changing Expectations of the Researcher
As earlier chapters have noted, the revolutionary new tools of research and communication clash with some of the traditional values of research. The institutions of research—universities, academic departments, libraries, publishers, and research funding organizations—however, are adapting. The problem for young researchers is that these adaptations are proceeding at varying rates, depending on the specific institutions.
For many young researchers, this environment may seem disordered and chaotic. Digital aids to research such as having wide access to electronic publications places greater stress on the researcher to keep up. Researchers need guidance about what is important, what is highly specialized, and where to find it. Cooperation among individual disciplines of research and the creators of software who serve them will help smooth the process.
Some researchers will find this change healthy. Others will be discouraged. This chapter is intended as an aid for young researchers in navigating their scholarly activities in a digital environment. At the same time, certain characteristics of successful research have not changed. The values of cooperation, open communication, intellectual rigor, and persistence, are traditionally passed from generation to generation by the ap-
prenticeship of students to their mentors. These relationships will be prized and preserved, even as the research environment changes in all the ways this Committee has described. The value of personal relationships is likely never to be replaced by digital technologies.
The conduct of research often involves collaboration and teamwork at least in the sense of building on the work of predecessors. In some cases the scope and/or scale of work demands a team approach, often requiring participants with complementary expertise. The word “teamwork” is used here in both a strong and weaker sense. In the strong sense it means tightly coupled intellectual collaboration with others who are on the “same team.” In the sponsored research world, a team may have received joint funding and have mutual self-interest in a successful outcome of the collaboration.
The word is also used in the weaker sense of participating in—giving to and taking from—a specialized research community of common interests. One may be a participant in and a good citizen of one's research community, but at the same time compete for recognition and support. An example of this kind of teamwork is the increasing expectation that experimenters contribute data to a common electronic repository or archive. These practices require more explicit articulation and agreement about rules for data sharing and rights of usage. In some fields, new covenants and relationships of trust are being negotiated.
In the digital age, researchers find it increasingly a possibility—and thus an obligation—to maintain awareness of other research in one's field and to consider one's work within the context of others' work, wherever these researchers are geographically located. Researchers can now follow the work in their specialization on a day-by-day basis, for example through Web sites. Through digital technology, researchers are increasing their evaluation not only relative to their home and national institutional peers, but also with respect to their peers around the world.
Technology may also be exacerbating the age-old tension between cooperation and competition in research. On the one hand, there is infrastructure and mutual gain through contributing data, processes, and findings to the common good, and this can be done at nearly instantaneous rates. On the other hand,
this same technology makes research results or even facilities readily available to one's competitors on a global scale.
There are some who hope that digital computer and communication technology will allow larger, more efficient interdisciplinary research teams to form that can better tackle complex societal problems. If this is the case, perhaps researchers will increasingly see it as an obligation to participate in team research. In addition, digital technology will enable some researchers to successfully assume different roles in different teams, as the leader of one, participant in others, occasional consultant in some, and observer/learner in others.
Technology also can enable young newcomers to a field to interact with the “veterans” of the field in new ways that transcend geographic and institutional boundaries. Students can seek mentoring and access to facilities beyond their local mentors and advisers. On the other hand, veterans may have little incentive to interact with junior colleagues. Technology can also provide easier interaction among the hierarchies of scholarly activities. But expectations for both newcomers and veterans need to be better defined. For example, research universities and four-year colleges need to offer meaningful research experiences to undergraduates in order to attract the best students into their graduate programs.
Information technology provides important tools for the conduct of research and teaching, communication, administration, and personal productivity. Increasingly powerful computers allow one to solve complex problems and simulate natural phenomena, while networks provide access to scientific literature and data and help one communicate and collaborate with colleagues. The impact of information technology on teaching can be equally profound, linking students and faculty through networks, allowing access to original materials, and supporting new forms of pedagogy such as distributed virtual environments. The array of tools for productivity—electronic mail, word processing, spreadsheets, contact managers, symbolic mathematical tools, presentation software, Web browsers and search engines, data warehouses, and multimedia—continues to expand.
Failing to keep pace with the rapid evolution of these tools can put one at a considerable disadvantage. While it is not
necessary to be an early adopter of each wave of new technology, some facility with mainstream technology such as the Internet and personal productivity tools has become essential for keeping pace with the research community. Recent surveys suggest that many researchers worry that they are falling behind their colleagues in their use of information technology. They fear the resulting isolation from their research colleagues and an inability to take advantage of the emerging tools for teaching and research necessary for the classroom and laboratory.
Institutions must provide sufficient resources to enable researchers to keep pace with developments in information technology through robust technology environments, staff support, and training opportunities. Today's researchers must make the personal commitment to take advantage of these opportunities—to keep pace with technology just as they try to keep pace with research advances in their fields.
REWARDING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACHIEVEMENTS
Researchers who use information technology can improve the quality and productivity of their research, teaching, and administrative activities. To that degree they should be rewarded, through compensation, promotion, and tenure. Yet in many organizations (particularly in universities), personnel evaluations are based primarily on traditional criteria, such as peer assessment, scholarly publications, grantsmanship, graduate student supervision, and teaching, without additional consideration for the innovative use of technology. Junior faculty and research staff should keep pace with information technology to the extent that it improves their professional performance, but they should be realistic in expecting rewards for doing so.
Spending too much time developing information technology for the classroom or laboratory has hurt the careers of many junior researchers. Promotion reviews often fail to weigh properly achievements such as software and hardware development. Publishing in online journals or through sophisticated Web sites is usually discounted in favor of publishing traditional peer-reviewed articles in well-established journals. An elegantly coded subroutine developed to solve a research problem or novel application of multimedia in the classroom may go
unnoticed or unappreciated by senior colleagues accustomed to evaluating scholarly publications in peer-reviewed journals.
While this Committee can encourage promotion and tenure reviews to be more inclusive in evaluating young researchers, junior faculty and staff are wise to understand clearly the criteria used in making these important career decisions, and plan and conduct their efforts accordingly.
PUBLICATIONS AND DISSEMINATION
The research process is incomplete without responsible publication. Although the technology and forms of publication are changing, the expectations for researchers are not.
In the “publish or perish” world of academia, the enhancement of reputations leading to promotion, tenure, and research funding are often motives for publishing, but they should never dominate the underlying purpose of communicating results to others.
The first expectation of all researchers is accuracy. Whether or not a publication is subject to peer review, the author is responsible for checking all facts and references, for identifying material that is doubtful and not making assertions beyond those supported by the evidence. A key element of establishing accuracy is proper attribution. Almost every work builds on other research. Correct and full attribution is essential acknowledgement of collaborators.
The next expectation is timeliness. Particularly when work has been supported by public funds, good researchers recognize an obligation to present their results while they are still fresh so that others can build on them. They also seek to publish research where it will be read. In science research, this is often a journal that is indexed by a service, such as Medline for biomedical research or INSPEC for the physical sciences, but sometimes an open-access repository or a Web publication may reach a wider audience. Some research has characteristics that inhibit timely publication: the peculiarities of patent law discourage early publication; industrial sponsors wish to keep results away from competitors; and some government organizations classify certain categories of results. Universities have fairly specific regulations about such restrictions. Individuals have an obligation to be aware of constraints on publication before starting the research.
Individuals have yet another obligation. The system of
publication is based on collegiality. Editing and reviewing are important tasks that everyone shares. The care with which these tasks are carried out is of fundamental importance: they are time-consuming and frequently tedious, but the quality of academic publication depends upon them.
Publication can be one of the most rewarding aspects of being a researcher. A steadily growing list of peer-reviewed publications that others read and use as a basis for their work is one path to excellence.
PATENTS AND COPYRIGHTS
“The right to search for truth implies also a duty: one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.” (Albert Einstein)
Without the sharing of information, science would grind to a halt. But universities and academic researchers in many fields increasingly have come to think of their results as “intellectual property,” to be exploited for personal gain rather than shared. This shift has resulted in part from changes in patent and copyright laws. 1 These changes have been accompanied by industry's growing reliance on academic research, and rapidly expanding federal research investments in areas that have strong interest for the private sector (such as biomedical research and computer science). University technology transfer offices work actively to encourage faculty members to patent significant results, so that the institutions and researchers may share the stream of royalties that result from licensing the patents to companies. Academic research is generally growing more competitive.
As the financial stakes rise, the tradition of scientific openness and sharing is endangered. To protect their positions in competition for funding or the race for scientific primacy, some researchers withhold results and techniques that are of general interest and utility. Others succumb to pressure from institu-
1Notably the Bayh-Dole University and Small Business Patent Act of 1980, as amended through the years (P.L. 96-517). The Act permitted federal grantees such as universities for the first time to retain title to federally funded inventions (if they licensed them speedily to industry). A discussion of the Act from the universities' point of view can be found at http://www.cogr.edu/bayh-dole.htm
tional administrators to maximize patent royalties, or from industrial sponsors to protect trade secrets. For these reasons, research faculty may be reluctant to share information with colleagues in the traditional ways. They may even be tempted to withhold scholarly information from their graduate students—contradicting a fundamental feature of the mentor– student relationship.
Some protections of information are acceptable. The taxpayers who support academic research do so partly because they anticipate future commercial benefits. Commercial applications are often impossible without patent or copyright protection to the companies who wish to apply them. Society must balance these needs with the long-term health of the research enterprise, which depends on the flow of information. Generally, for example, companies that fund academic research are permitted brief periods (a few weeks) in which they may withhold information on results that are thought to be suitable for patenting, but agree to make everything else public immediately.
It is also necessary to protect copyrighted information. Journals and commercial databases, for example, are generally protected by copyright. The so-called fair-use doctrine permits such information to be used in education or research (thus encouraging the spread of knowledge through the community of researchers), but forbids wholesale reproduction and any commercial uses. The easy availability of information on the Internet has tempted some students and researchers to pirate information. Ken Abernethy and Tom Allen of Furman University have made a practical “Overview of Copyright Law in the Digital Domain,” aimed at the needs of researchers, available (at http://s9000.furman.edu/DD/book/chap2/essay/prop1.html ). It includes references to more comprehensive and technical treatments. The Virginia Tech Web site for submitting dissertations for electronic publishing includes numerous copyright resources (at http://etd.vt.edu/issues/ and http:/scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/copyright/ ).
Researchers are continually faced with decisions about patenting and copyright protection of their work. The choices are often difficult and subtle ones, despite efforts by research funding agencies, universities, and the companies to develop policies that draw guidelines between what is acceptable and what is not. Some universities offer online resources and training for graduate students and faculty in their rights and obliga-
tions. Each researcher must be aware of the laws and policies involved in using information obtained from others. The reader may obtain some guidance from On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, a related report of the National Research Council (1995).
ENSURING THE INTEGRITY OF RESEARCH IN THE CHANGING DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT
Although most researchers routinely do not think explicitly about the fundamental values driving their activities, there is considerable agreement within the research communities of scientists and engineers that a core set of values at least implicitly guides the ideal practices in their fields. They include the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and understanding; the ability to change and control parts of the world; the ability to build things; the betterment of the human condition through health, preservation of the environment, general economic advancement, happiness, beauty, education, and stimulation of the young. The values served are universal. Ideally, scientific and engineering research serves universal ends as well. Intended for the benefit of all people, good research is not explicitly parochial, nationalistic, racist, class conscious, and so on.
Many norms and conventions governing the conduct of research serve these values. Strict methodological guidelines, for example, represent a research community's ideal standards for achieving sound, reliable results. The convention of peer review is intended to ensure that published work meets the standards of a particular research community and helps build a body of work that is trustworthy. Blind peer review protects against irrelevant biases. Open sharing of research findings stimulates progress by enabling researchers to build incrementally upon the achievements of others. To enable the union of diverse skills and expertise, collaboration and teamwork have evolved. Fair attribution of credit for discoveries and results promotes progress by encouraging excellence. The norms that reflect principles of ethical conduct in research serve not only general moral ends, but also the ends of scientific integrity, truth, and competence.
This report describes many of the new digital research tools for science and engineering. These tools have irreversibly revolutionized the way research is now and will be conducted. For the most part research communities are adapting by wel-
coming these changes as necessary improvements for fostering productivity, speed, efficiency, precision, collaboration, and creativity. This willingness to adapt is generally perceived as positive and progressive (Nissenbaum, 1998).
Amidst the general optimism, the Committee sounds cautionary notes about possible impacts of the new research practices. If core values are weakened or deflected by the use of digital technology, then the relevant practices should be carefully examined and redirected and, if necessary, rejected. A few examples illustrate the extent of these challenges:
Electronic publication opens vast possibilities, which many have welcomed as ways to free researchers from the hold of commercial publishers. Publication practices have changed and will no doubt continue to change. We recommend, however, that as communities make these changes, they bear in mind how these changes affect the relevant values, such as truth and integrity. Because publication mediates the attribution of credit and priority we must consider how such norms will be affected by electronic publication.
The traditional research value of data sharing is also being challenged. This value is not an absolute one, since researchers frequently don't reveal information about works in progress. Electronic sharing of information is different from traditional sharing in significant ways. For example, the researcher faces a greater loss of control if information sharing can so easily be disseminated by others. When devising digital norms, we must not necessarily adopt norms that are most similar to the old, but rather, norms that serve the valued ends to the same extent, or better, than the old.
Researchers protecting intellectual property may interfere with teamwork and data sharing interests.
Financial disparities among individual researchers and institutions with respect to access to costly elements of the digital infrastructure may produce unfair distributions of the advantages of having these important assets.
In all of these cases, researchers must apply the tests of their fundamental values.
THE ENDURING FOUNDATIONS OF RESEARCH
Many excellent researchers in science and engineering will challenge disciplinary boundaries and confound expectations. Other more traditional and conservative researchers may be no less excellent or creative. Academic communities tend to retain traditional customs and governing structures. These researchers can do profound and important work, opening new horizons for their colleagues, without going beyond the limits of their disciplines.
The electronic tools of communications and computing enhance both innovative and traditional practices in research. But they may favor the innovators, by making it easier to work across boundaries and to ignore the rules. The community of researchers will be forced to examine those boundaries and rules increasingly as digital tools grow more powerful and pervasive. The community is certain to be strengthened by this radical review of its foundations.