A wave of discoveries in the life sciences, supported by new enabling technologies and drawing on many fields beyond biology, is yielding great social and economic benefits and promises continuing gains in the future. Inspired by this vision, governments across the globe, as well as regional and international organizations, are launching strategies and making investments to apply these advances to address challenges related to food, energy, economic development, the environment, animal and plant health, and human well-being. One of the exciting aspects of this “Century of Biology” is the diffusion of research capacity and infrastructure to many parts of the world, creating an increasingly global life sciences research enterprise.
Along with these hopes and achievements, however, have come concerns about the implications of such rapid advances. Concerns include uneasiness about how an increased understanding of basic life processes, and the resulting potential to manipulate and control them, may result in unintended impacts on the environment or human well-being, or the risk of deliberate misuse of knowledge, tools, and techniques from the life sciences to cause harm.
How the scientific community responds to these concerns can be considered part of the broader relationship between science and society. Beyond its fundamental quest for greater knowledge and understanding, science is conducted in a social context. Science depends on public support, including but not limited to the substantial funding that enables research to take place. Ensuring that scientific research is carried out responsibly is essential to maintaining the relationship between science and society.
The scientific community itself, through its professional bodies and other groups, plays a leading role in fostering and maintaining the norms and standards for what constitutes responsible conduct of science. These standards also provide the basis for training and education about expectations—and in some cases requirements—for professional and responsible behavior. As science becomes an increasingly global enterprise, a growing number of international scientific organizations have joined the activities of national bodies to underscore the ethical imperatives for all involved in scientific research. In addition, a strong tradition of self-governance to maintain responsible conduct in scientific research, often referred to as a “culture of responsibility,” provides the foundation for scientists to respond to societal concerns.
Life scientists address ethical and safety issues in their work through three overlapping fields that provide norms and practices to guide research: biosafety, bioethics, and responsible conduct of research. Biosafety practices, which have been codified as national and international guidelines, have developed over the last several decades to safeguard the health of laboratory workers and avoid accidental or inadvertent releases of dangerous biological agents and toxins that could harm people or the environment. Bioethics encompasses a wide
range of ethical issues in different national and disciplinary contexts, including basic research, medical interventions and specifically clinical settings, and protections for human subjects in research. Bioethics also engages many disciplines beyond science and medicine, such as politics, law, philosophy, and theology, so there is great diversity in bioethics education programs. The third field is known by various names, including “research integrity,” “scientific integrity,” and “research ethics.” In the United States, for example, the term “responsible conduct of research” (RCR) emerged in the late 1980s in response to rising concerns about research misconduct. Over time, the mandate evolved into a variably defined set of policies and professional standards that suggested appropriate subjects for instruction.
Where and what material students learn about any of the norms and practices in these fields depends on their area of study, educational institution, and stage of education. They may receive formal instruction ranging from single lectures or online modules to full courses. Informal mechanisms such as mentoring by senior researchers also are important. The scope and quality of education vary widely, but many students still receive little or no exposure to education about responsible conduct of research in the United States, and the problem is worse in other countries. Proposals and initiatives to extend the reach and improve the quality of education for life scientists about responsible conduct of research coincide with and provide a context for a growing interest in education as a fundamental component of efforts to address concerns about deliberate misuse.
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES’S FACULTY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT
Since the early 2000s, national and international scientific organizations have been engaged in a series of activities to address risks from potential or deliberate misuse of life sciences research. One major line of work has been to inform policymakers about these issues and national and international efforts to minimize, and hopefully prevent, misuse. Another has identified how best to encourage greater engagement by scientists and scientific organizations through education and raising awareness about the importance of responsible conduct in all of its dimensions. The latter activities have set the stage for a major initiative by the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academies and its international partners to develop and implement a series of strategic approaches to their education activities. The first part of the initiative applies a model developed by the U.S. National Academies to use active learning methods to improve the quality of undergraduate biology education to the challenges of creating networks of faculty able to teach about dual use issues (see Box 1-1) in the context of responsible conduct of science.1
In 2008 the U.S. State Department provided support for an international workshop, convened in Warsaw by several international scientific organizations and organized by the U.S. National Academies and the Polish Academy of Sciences, to:
• survey strategies and resources available internationally for education on dual use issues and identify gaps,
• consider ideas for filling the gaps, including development of new educational materials and implementation of effective teaching methods, and
• discuss approaches for including education on dual use issues in the training of life scientists.
1 Dual use refers to research that, although undertaken for beneficial purposes, has the potential to yield results that could be misused to cause deliberate harm.
A key feature of the workshop was the inclusion of experts in the growing body of research on the science of learning about how adults learn and what are therefore the most effective approaches to teaching about responsible conduct.
An ad hoc committee under the auspices of the National Academies, with substantial international membership, produced a report from that workshop with a number of conclusions and recommendations for improving education. One of the major recommendations was to create networks of faculty through train-the-trainer programs using active learning approaches drawn from the science of learning (a description of active learning techniques is in Chapter 3 of this report). The networks would provide the basis on which to build sustainable efforts to introduce issues in the context of responsible conduct of science such as dual use. The project described in this report grew out of the recommendations of that workshop.
In 2010, the Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP) of the U.S. State Department, which provided funding for the Warsaw workshop, agreed to support a two-year project to implement some of the workshop’s key recommendations. The full Statement of Task for the project appears in Box S-1. The Middle East–North Africa (MENA) region was chosen to test a prototype that might then be applied in other countries or regions if successful. In addition to the lessons from the Warsaw workshop about the most effective ways to introduce issues of potential misuse it was hoped that combining the best pedagogies with responsible conduct of science would be an appealing capacity-building opportunity for faculty in countries that are interested in using life sciences research for economic growth and improved well-being.
The project was carried out in stages, as shown in the Statement of Task, and overseen by an ad hoc committee of the National Academies, under the auspices of its Board on Life Sciences, with members from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Egypt. It was implemented as a partnership with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, and The World Academy of Science (TWAS), in Trieste, Italy, to draw upon those organizations’ extensive ties in the region and increase the chance for the initiative to become sustainable.
The first phase centered on a planning meeting held at TWAS in late spring 2011 to design a general framework for educational institutes for faculty based on the successful model of the National Academies Summer Institute for Undergraduate Biology Education (hereafter NASI) organized by the National Academies and sponsored primarily by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for undergraduate biology faculty (www.academiessummerinstitute.org/). In the project’s second phase, the first Institute was held in Aqaba, Jordan, in September 2012 for 28 participants from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Yemen. It combined sessions devoted to the content of responsible conduct that incorporated various active learning techniques to model what the participants might do in their home institutions. For example, the participants discussed a number of real and hypothetical cases that illustrated different aspects of responsible science, such as authorship and mentorship, the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine and autism, and the controversy in 2011 and 2012 over the publication of gain-of-function research related to the H5N1 virus. Additional work in small groups gave them opportunities to use the techniques they were acquiring during the Institute to develop materials that would be useful to their individual academic situations and to present them to other participants prior to returning home.
An online survey shortly after the Institute gathered the participants’ initial impressions about their experiences there. In the third and final phase, project participants were invited to apply for small grants to implement some of the combinations of content and methods they designed at the Institute for their home institutions. A small reunion in Amman, Jordan, in April 2013 for the leaders of the teams that received grants enabled the participants to discuss their experiences up to that point, share their insights about the Institute, and consider how their efforts might continue at their institutions and across the MENA region. Their suggestions and lessons provided an important component of the formulation of the committee’s findings and conclusions in this report.
INSIGHTS AND REALITIES: LESSONS FROM THE PROJECT
The NASI model, which involves a variety of evidence-based approaches to active teaching, learning, engagement, and assessment, can be adapted to different topics, cultural contexts, and countries. In the course of reviewing the design and implementation of this Institute, the committee identified a number of insights including logistical, academic, and cultural challenges and realities that could help to improve future projects.
• Active engagement of committee members and Institute leaders before, during, and after the Institute is crucial.
• A detailed application and merit-based selection process can identify enthusiastic and committed participants who will, in turn, demonstrate the importance of such approaches to colleagues at their home institutions and in their disciplines.
• Teaching about and modeling pedagogy can play a significant role in the success of an Institute.
• The demanding pace of the Institute made it hard for some participants to comprehend the concepts and techniques fully and apply them during small group work. Future Institutes will benefit either by providing more time to integrate active learning with new content or by reducing the breadth or both.
• The design of resources and assessments for an Institute benefits from particular attention to linguistic and cultural differences among participants and facilitators. Working with partners from the region where the Institute will take place allows organizers to take into account local customs, traditions, and cultures in ways that remove barriers and foster stronger relationships among organizers and participants.
• The NASI have demonstrated that a reunion of some participants following an Institute can provide new insights about participants' challenges, resources, and opportunities for networking and for sustaining programs (details in Chapter 5). The Institute described in this report further confirmed that a reunion can be especially important for participants from developing countries. For example, by the end of the reunion in Jordan, the scientists who attended agreed that their ability to conduct their own work around responsible conduct and to reach other colleagues at their home institutions, across their individual countries, and in the MENA region as a whole could be expanded and sustained by establishing a network among them. They decided to use this network to share ideas, common challenges,
and opportunities, and to develop joint proposals for future work.
• As with the development of the NASI, new Institutes will require continuing experimentation with and evaluation of all aspects of their design. Feedback from the participants, combined with the results of their projects, can play an important role in future iterations.
• The introduction of both new pedagogies and new content at the same time can be a significant challenge for some participants. Reviewing background materials in advance of the Institute can lessen this impact. However, materials written in English about new concepts, such as active learning and dual use, may present obstacles for non-English speakers.
• Framing biosafety and dual use issues in the context of responsible science was meaningful to many participants. However, based on conversations during plenary discussions with the participants who attended the reunion meeting in Amman, practical realities such as the lack of basic scientific equipment, reliable Internet connections, and access to scientific journals impede scientists in this region, and especially those from more impoverished nations, from undertaking research at a level where dual use issues raise concerns for them. People undertaking activities where research with dual use potential and/or misuse of technologies is to be one of the topics need to take this reality into account when planning their events or programs.
• Some concepts that are crucial to active learning, responsible science, and dual use cannot be expressed in Arabic. In most of the countries represented at this Institute, teaching about science occurs in English but instructors sometimes provide additional explanations or contexts in Arabic (or French in Algeria). Similarly, Arabic-speaking scientists and students may interpret English words in ways that are different from what the organizers intend. For example, the facilitator team learned that there is only one Arabic word for the two English words “search” and “research,” which may contribute to misunderstanding the standards for plagiarism in English-language journals among Arabic-speaking scientists and students. For example, several participants told the group that when they ask their students to define “research,” their common response is to find the information in question on Google or another search engine. Hence, these students are not concerned with copying and pasting information from the Internet into their own essays and research reports.
• Scientific research in the MENA region has advanced remarkably over the last generation. Nonetheless, participants reiterated that the lack of a formal framework and infrastructure for research in their countries (e.g., the absence of comprehensive policies and oversight structures regarding authorship, peer review, research with laboratory animals and human subjects, and biosafety) makes it difficult for scientists to follow international standards and to teach best practices in responsible science to their students.
• As the committee learned from the active learning exercise conducted on day 1 of the Institute in which participants from each nation worked together to describe their country’s system of higher education (see Chapter 4), there are similarities and differences in education philosophies, approaches to teaching and learning,
facilities, and resources among nations. The differences need to be taken into consideration when planning future Institutes.
• The small grants awarded to participants were used creatively to address an array of educational needs that they identified. In many cases these funds prompted subsequent institutional support to sustain participants’ instructional activities. However, as also occurs in the United States, limited funding restricted the ability of these motivated science educators to reach larger audiences who would benefit from instruction on responsible science, biosafety, and dual use issues.
• At the reunion, discussions following each presentation and after all presenters had described their post-Institute activities revealed a great deal of variation in the ways in which participants in those activities were surveyed about their learning and the project’s efficacy. Assessment and evaluation are an issue for science faculty across the world. Providing additional guidance and models of survey instruments before such projects are undertaken could provide much more useful and usable data for future initiatives.
Taken together, these insights offer important lessons for the design and implementation of future programs in the MENA region as well as in other parts of the world.
Statement of Task
An ad hoc committee appointed by the National Research Council will develop a framework for an international series of faculty development institutes in key regions around the world with the goal of promoting and enhancing education about issues related to research in the life sciences with dual use potential in the context of responsible conduct of science.
The institutes will bring together higher education faculty in the life sciences as well as experts in related areas to gain greater understanding and experience with methods for effective teaching and learning, develop curricular materials to facilitate education about dual use issues that they will use in their classes, and become prepared to be leaders in their communities on these topics.
The project will be conducted in three phases:
• Phase I: Planning. The committee will organize and hold a planning meeting, which will bring together life science educators from the Middle East–North Africa region with leaders in dual use issues and science education. The planning meeting will help to answer substantive and logistical questions that will guide the organization of Phase II, including issues such as scheduling, language, target audience, and evaluation, outreach and dissemination strategies. A consensus letter report will be prepared to guide the organization of Phase II and to serve as a model for organizing similar institutes in the MENA or other regions. In its report, the committee may offer guidance on the distribution of resources to support implementation and follow-up activities.
• Phase II: First Faculty Development Institute. The committee will organize a first institute that will feature several invited presentations in addition to workgroups and hands-on exercises. The committee will identify the topics, select and invite speakers and other participants, and work with regional hosts in organizing the session.
• Phase III: Implementation and Additional Activities. The committee will work with participants from the first institute to help them implement what they have learned at their home institutions. Small amounts of funding to support implementation, such as the development of new materials, brown bag seminars, or other activities will be made available to at least some of the participating faculty. A follow-up meeting for institute alumni will take be held approximately 6-9 months after the institute, which a small group of staff and committee members will attend.
The committee will also oversee the preparation of a final consensus report that would provide an account of the first institute, the activities initiated by the participants at their home institutions, the discussions at the follow-up meeting of the alumni, and an evaluation of the outcomes. It will also offer further conclusions about successful practices for preparing faculty to teach about research with dual use potential.