Report on the International Workshop “Independence of Research” 15-16 November, Berlin

International Workshop “Independence of Research”
15-16 November, Berlin

The interdisciplinary research group “Independence of Research” (InRes) held an international workshop with the aim of exploring how this topic is addressed by researchers across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The theme of the workshop was captured by a poster of the InRes research group (David Hopf), which distinguished two central notions of independence of research, namely independence as freedom of science and independence as freedom from bias. IMG_2121The presentations at the workshop and the posters presented by members of the InRes group addressed these two notions and some of the links between them. Independence as freedom of science at various levels of aggregation was explored by InRes posters on the independence of early career researchers (Grit Laudel), on cumulative effects of grant funding (Melike Janßen, Uwe Schimank and Jochen Gläser) as well as presentations on the independence of health consumer groups as research funders (Lisa Parker), researchers in German automotive engineering (Christopher Grieser), Dutch PhD students working in grant-funded projects (Alexandra Supper) and African agricultural researchers (Matthew Harsh). Sarah Schönbauer explored notions of independence held by early career life scientists. Independence as freedom from bias was explored by Whitney Yoder’s presentation on the measurement of researcher allegiance and by the InRes poster on second-order effects of regulations concerning conflicts of interests in medicine (Marlene Stoll, Lara Hubenschmid, Cora Koch and Klaus Lieb).

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Several contributions linked the two notions of freedom of science and freedom from bias. Jennifer Byrne’s presentation and the poster by Jochen Gläser, Therese Kienemund, Lydia Liesegang and Marion Schmidt addressed a threat to the independence of scientific communities posed by systematic fraud or the publication of incorrect information. This topic was also addressed by Bastian Rake, who asked how pharmaceutical companies were involved in publications that were later retracted. Yaghoob Foroutan linked the two notions in his analysis of social science in a country dominated by religion, with religion creating both a framework that limits scientific freedom and a particular bias of religious researchers. Finally, Philipp Altmann discussed the independence of Ecuadorian sociology with regard to both its political relationships to society and ideological bias.

The discussions at the workshop revealed interesting links between disciplines, between countries, and between topics. For example, Whitney Yoder discussed opportunities to measure researcher allegiance – a preference for a particular therapy that is not justified by empirical evidence – in psychotherapy research. This concept appears to be useful for the study of religious allegiance (discussed in Yaghoob Foroutan’s presentation on social science research in Islamic countries) and ideological allegiance (discussed in Philipp Altmann’s presentation on the development of sociology in Ecuador). Similarly, the independence of young researchers was a theme in Sarah Schönbauer’s presentation on conceptualisations of independence by early career researchers in the life sciences, in Alexandra Supper’s presentation on humanities dissertations written in the context of larger grant-funded projects, and in Grit Laudel’s poster of the InRes group.

The workshop also pointed to possible benefits of interdisciplinary collaborations. Thus, Bastian Rake’s presentation on retractions of publications by firms in biomedical journals suggested further research on the reasons for retraction. Do the retracted publications promote an agenda of the firm involved? And if so, is the incorrect information whose discovery necessitates retraction linked to the firm’s agenda? Answering these questions requires a collaboration between biomedical scientists who can identify research agendas and social scientists who analyse retractions. On a similar topic, social scientists can contribute to studying the diffusion of incorrect information in scientific communities and the use of this information by other researchers. This was exemplified by Jennifer Byrne’s presentation on papers containing incorrect information (and the potentially large number of such publications made possible by understudied genes), which was complemented by a poster of the InRes group (Gläser et al.) on the diffusion of this information. Another topic whose further exploration could benefit from collaboration is researcher allegiance. The presentation by Whitney Yoder made clear how difficult it is to operationalise this concept and to measure researcher allegiance, particularly with quantitative methods. However, it seems possible to conceptualise allegiance as a particular frame and to utilise qualitative methods of sociological frame analysis. The study of the independence of patient organisations and the possible impact of conflicts of interests in these organisations on research policy and funding presented by Lisa Parker is not only of interest to medical researchers but also a matter of concern to science studies, which so far conceptualised patient groups primarily as civil society organisations. Observations on funding of patient organisations by pharmaceutical firms and resulting conflicts of interest help define a research topic of interest to both medical researchers and social scientists. The workshop demonstrated that the independence of research is a concern of many social science disciplines as well as the sciences themselves. These concerns are not always visible because the problem is addressed from different perspectives and in a variety of unconnected fora. Contributions to the workshop and the connections between them demonstrated that an interdisciplinary research agenda exists, and needs to be made more explicit.

List of Contributions

Oral presentations

Big pharma, bad science? An analysis of retractions in bio-medical journals. Bastian Rake (Maynooth University, Kildare)

Systematic fraud targeting under-studied genes as a threat to research integrity and independence. Jennifer A. Byrne (The University of Sydney) & Cyril Labbé (Univ. Grenoble Alpes)
Detecting researcher allegiance in psychotherapy research: Validation of the reprint method. Whitney Yoder, Eirini Karyotaki, Ioana-Alina Cristea, Pim Cuijpers & Krishma Labib (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
An independent research funder? An empirical ethics study of health consumer group links with the pharmaceutical industry. Lisa Parker, Quinn Grundy & Lisa Bero (The University of Sydney)
Dependence on the Industry that Simultaneously Restricts and Enables Knowledge Exchange in a Scientific Community. The Case of German Automotive Engineering. Christopher Grieser (Technical University Berlin)
Socio-Cultural Contexts and Independence of Research: Fieldwork Experiences and Research Lessons. Yaghoob Foroutan (Waikato University of Waikato, Hamilton)
A Lab of One’s Own? On Becoming an Independent Researcher in the Academic Life Sciences. Ruth Müller & Sarah Schönbauer (Technical University Munich)
“Within the frames that were laid out”: ‘independence’ in project-funded humanities dissertations. Alexandra Supper (Maastricht University)
Examining independence through careers in African science: Agricultural researchers in Kenya. Matthew Harsh (California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo), Ravtosh Bal, Wesley Shrum, Mark Schaffer, Paige Miller
Critique as independence – Sociology in Ecuador. Philipp Altmann (Universidad Central del Ecuador)
Posters presented by the InRes group:

Second-Order Effects of Conflict of Interest Regulations in Medicine Marlene Stoll & Lara Hubenschmid (University Medical Center Mainz), Cora Koch (University of Freiburg), Klaus Lieb (University Medical Center Mainz)

Competition for Funding and Redistribution of Opportunities for independent Research Jochen Gläser (TU Berlin), Uwe Schimank & Melike Janßen (Uni Bremen)

The Independence of early career researchers Grit Laudel (TU Berlin)

How does the diffusion of incorrect information affect the production of scientific knowledge? Jochen Gläser, Therese Kienemund & Lydia Liesegang (TU Berlin), Marion Schmidt (DZHW)

Concept Integration Stream David Hopf (Leibniz University Hanover)