The discussion began with questions about redundant efforts (both in the structure and process) in organizational cultures that can address ethics issues or compensate for a lack of ethics education. An example of redundant efforts would be high quality regulatory oversight at institutions, such as IRBs, combined with easily available resources on RCR, such as resources listed on a lab webpage, and also good advisor-advisee relationships that allow for questions and discussions about ethical conduct. The idea of redundancy being built into a system is familiar in engineering and has also been used in medicine recently to prevent errors. Heather Canary observed that Martinson’s assessment tool seemed to be able to measure the amount of redundant efforts or redundancy in organizational culture because of how it was set up to examine content domains that reflect the organizational redundancies in the process and/or structure. Martinson agreed and noted that that there is also some redundancy built in to what the SORC assessment tool measures.
Discussion also focused on inhibitors of cultural research integrity, such as institutional or professional pressures like requirement for high publication in prestigious journals. Martinson mentioned an article by Joshua M. Nicholson and John P.A. Ioannidis titled “Research Grants: Conform and Be Funded” (Dec. 6, 2012, Nature 492:34–36), which he said reveals some systemic problems in science that could result in misconduct. He suggested that publication pressures like those described in the article can lead to cynicism and desperation, factors which can inhibit research integrity.
Sara Wilson asked if institutional climate changes would be more effective than traditional RCR education in reducing incidents of misconduct or if the two methods were complementary. Martinson responded that the assessment research has not been done yet to answer the question, but that he thought it was not an “either/or” question, rather the two are integrally related.
Rachelle Hollander noted that the interpretation of Martinson’s data seemed to suggest that the departments in institutions are the most influential variable for changing behavior and for achieving effective ethics education. She then asked what approaches would target departments and whether departments should be targeted to create institutional change. Martinson responded that institutional leaders—deans, chairs, and heads of labs—are crucial and that, when they have assessment data showing how they compare with other institutions, they are in the position to make changes in very specific areas of the institutional culture. C.K. Gunsalus reinforced this point, saying that having validated data about a specific institution is a very important step in enabling or at least encouraging organizations and leaders to make changes. She also noted that there is a robust literature on organizational climates and changes in them that could assist in efforts to change the ethics culture at academic institutions.