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Theatre on scientific stumbling blocks

Theatre on scientific stumbling blocks

Photographer:Fotograaf: Still from The ConScience App

Science satire. Discussion theatre. That is how the play The ConScience App is characterised, which broaches the moral dilemmas in science. The theatre company will descend on Maastricht next Thursday.

“O Lotte, another thing about the paper,” says postdoc Jeroen Dreef, who is supervising the PhD candidate. “Don't forget to mention Roberto as co-author.”

Lotte: “Which Roberto?”

“Roberto from Leiden. Who else.”

“But he didn't contribute anything.”

“He gave us his thoughts in the beginning.”

“Yes but …”

“It helps maintain a good working relationship and who knows it might result in something for us in the future.”

Lotte throws her arms up in the air and is left bewildered.

The above is a scene from the performance The ConScience App, which was created by De Jonge Akademie and has been touring around the country since 2014. The idea is that this ‘science satire’ should move the debate about scientific integrity from the newspaper columns to the university shop floor. And to stimulate researchers to discuss the dilemmas in science.

Do you mainly quote articles that support your hypothesis? Do you opt for the statistical analysis that produces the most significant results? Is the publication about all the test subjects or only about the subgroup that eventually turned out to be the most special one? It often concerns the grey area of questionable research practises.

There is not enough discussion about the subject, says professor Maurice Zeegers, scientific director of research institute Caphri and chairman of the Platform for Research Ethics and Integrity (see box). “Also because it is at times sensitive. What if your supervisor wants to be mentioned as one of the authors, even though he didn't contribute at all.”

There are standards for this, says Natasja Reslow, secretary of the platform and former PhD candidate at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “Checking a text for grammatical errors is not enough to claim authorship.”

The matter is mainly an issue at the medical faculty, where many researchers are involved in publications. Zeegers: “It will become even more difficult with interdisciplinary projects, where different scientific cultures may clash.”

The ConScience App is an initiative by the Platform for Research Ethics and Integrity and is partly organised by Studium Generale. Observant - in collaboration with Platform for Research Ethics and Integrity - is going to publish a series of articles on the dilemmas of researchers, after the summer.

What is the Platform for Research Ethics and Integrity?

Promoting a healthy research culture at the UM. That is the aim of the Platform for Research Ethics and Integrity, which was founded in 2018. The platform differs from the other organisations in its positive point of departure: making scientists aware of pitfalls and dilemmas, and getting the discussion on the matter going.

For some time, PhD candidates have been able to approach a faculty confidential advisor in the case of conflicts with colleagues, just like every researcher can do with the UM confidential advisor. They will investigate whether the conflict has to do with scientific integrity. If so, this will be reported to the Scientific Integrity Commission (Commissie Wetenschappelijke Integriteit). The latter was set up in 2012 to investigate complaints concerning scientific misconduct. One of the reasons was the ‘Stapel case’.

The play The ConScience App (in English), Thursday 6 June 18:00hrs. Theater aan het Vrijthof; Entrance is free

Register here: https://www.aanmelder.nl/107732/subscribe

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