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Why remediate researchers? A Response to Concerns

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The RePAIR Program provides a formal method for rehabilitating researchers who have engaged in research misconduct or questionable research practices.  This novel concept has raised an important questions. Why should researchers who engage in wrongdoing be allowed to be remediated? Do they deserve a second chance?  Is it fair to other researchers that diligently seek funding?

James Dubois, the director of the RePAIR Program, provides information (below) that helps answer some of these question. Let us know what you think.

On November 19th the ORI blog published a story on the Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research (RePAIR) program. The RePAIR program will offer intensive professional development education for researchers who have engaged in wrongdoing (such as data fabrication) or persistent noncompliance (such as conflict of interest or adverse event reporting failures). The ORI story attracted responses that suggest that remediation is inappropriate because we should have a zero tolerance policy. I would like to offer a few reasons why remediation makes sense in many cases:
  • Just as 95% of all prisoners eventually re-enter society, we think most researchers who have been in trouble will return to work in research—with or without remediation education. The RePAIR program hopes to assist researchers in returning to work with new skills that enhance the integrity and quality of their work.
     
  • Many studies—including Milgram’s obedience studies and Zimbardo’s prison experiment—indicate that good people will behave badly under some circumstances. While some research behaviors are clearly right and others clearly wrong, sometimes the distinction between ethical and unethical researchers is gray.
     
  • Accordingly, the RePAIR program will never excuse wrongdoing in research; but it is also more interested in fostering behavior change than in blaming and punishing. Drawing from extensive psychological data and remediation training programs for physicians, we believe we can foster positive change.
     
  • When researchers are defunded and terminated, the damage can be high: The field may lose a talented and productive investigator in whom many have invested heavily; institutions lose funding; and post-docs, coordinators, and others in a lab may lose their employment.
     
  • Given these high costs, if permanent debarment from funding and termination is the inevitable outcome of whistleblowing, colleagues and subordinates—who are in the best position to intervene when they observe wrongdoing—may be very slow to intervene. We believe that the RePAIR program offers a reasonable alternative, which may make people more likely to intervene in an early and effective manner.
I continue to believe that there is a time and a place for termination of employment and debarment from funding. But in many cases, remediation provides a very reasonable first response to wrongdoing or noncompliance. 
 
Information on the RePAIR program can be found at: http://www.RepairProgram.org. Your comments on the program and the idea of remediation are very welcome.
 
James M. DuBois, DSc, PhD, Director of the RePAIR Program
 
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