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USP Good Practices Committee to invest in education and prevention

ESTÚDIO REBIMBOCAIn September, the University of São Paulo (USP) Research Department formed its own Good Scientific Practices Committee. Meeting once a month, the five-member committee has a dual purpose: to promote educational actions in relation to scientific integrity, and to help prevent cases of misconduct. The initial focus will be on scientific research students and postdoctoral fellows, two groups served by the office of the associate dean. The initiatives planned by the committee include launching a platform to provide online training courses on good practices, organizing regular lectures and events, and publishing important texts and reference documents on the website of the associate dean’s office. The perception is that there is a lack of information on scientific integrity. “There are incidents of misconduct and fraud, but many of these problems stem from a lack of knowledge about good research practices,” Associate Dean José Eduardo Krieger, from the USP School of Medicine, told Agência FAPESP.

According to Hamilton Varela, a researcher at the São Carlos Institute of Chemistry at USP and advisor to the office of the associate dean, raising awareness of good practices requires a cultural shift. “At a university like ours, with almost 6,000 professors, we need efficient ways to assist the work of research committees. Some schools already have well-established initiatives, but others do not.” Providing reference documents and reports—including more than 150 texts that have been published in this section of Pesquisa FAPESP since 2011—on the associate dean’s website is an attempt to stimulate discussion in laboratories and classrooms. “These materials can be used to introduce students to topics related to scientific integrity,” says Varela.

The online training platform will be developed independently and will use videos and didactic material from the institution’s graduate schools and programs. “One idea is to provide online notebooks and require scientific research students to pass online tests on the content as a prerequisite to participating in research,” says Varela. Another initiative is trialing the use of an online laboratory notebook called SciNote, which stores all project notes on the cloud. “Keeping proper notes is essential to tracking results and ensuring that they can be replicated by other groups.”

The committee is being created as part of the current management of the associate dean’s office, and follows the FAPESP Code of Good Scientific Practice, launched in 2011, which states that all institutions with projects funded by the foundation must have structures dedicated to providing scientific integrity training and education, as well as agencies available to investigate and punish cases of misconduct. “USP already had mechanisms in place for investigating complaints, but it needed to implement educational and preventive actions,” says Varela.