Science and Engineering Ethics 24 (1):227-249 (2018)

Trisha Phillips
Mississippi State University
This project evaluates the impact of the National Science Foundation's policy to promote education in the responsible conduct of research. To determine whether this policy resulted in meaningful RCR educational experiences, our study examined the instructional plans developed by individual universities in response to the mandate. Using a sample of 108 U.S. institutions classified as Carnegie “very high research activity”, we analyzed all publicly available NSF RCR training plans in light of the consensus best practices in RCR education that were known at the time the policy was implemented. We found that fewer than half of universities developed plans that incorporated at least some of the best practices. More specifically, only 31% of universities had content and requirements that differed by career stage, only 1% of universities had content and requirements that differed by discipline; and only 18% of universities required some face-to-face engagement from all classes of trainees. Indeed, some schools simply provided hand-outs to their undergraduate students. Most universities had plans that could be satisfied with online programs such as the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative's RCR modules. The NSF policy requires universities to develop RCR training plans, but provides no guidelines or requirements for the format, scope, content, duration, or frequency of the training, and does not hold universities accountable for their training plans. Our study shows that this vaguely worded policy, and lack of accountability, has not produced meaningful educational experiences for most of the undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-doctoral trainees funded by the NSF.
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DOI 10.1007/s11948-017-9883-5
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