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Getting Scientists to Talk Ethics

Jan. 9, 2020

COS and UCR Graduate Division Partner to Evaluate Research Ethics Training Intervention

Charlottesville, VA — The Center for Open Science (COS) and the University of California, Riverside (UCR) Graduate Division are pleased to announce that the findings of “A randomized trial of a lab-embedded discourse intervention to improve research ethics” are published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study reports on the results of a research ethics training intervention created to strengthen ethics dialog among STEM lab members. The randomized trial was integrated with the Open Science Framework (OSF), an open science collaboration platform developed and maintained by the Center for Open Science. The project was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF SES-1540440).

The study informs the Institutional Re-engineering of Ethical Discourse in STEM (iREDS) curriculum, a new research ethics training that facilitates interpersonal communications among lab members — students, faculty, and staff — to consider, as a working community, the best practices of their research. 

Led by the UCR Graduate Division as a part of UCR’s campus initiative to promote ethical development in STEM research, the curriculum seeks to address the divide between the instruction of ethics in the classroom and the application of everyday ethics to the workflows and practices in the lab. Specifically, the training is designed to routinize discussion of ethical best practices, which in turn could empower science and engineering lab members to justify their work not only to other lab members, as in this intervention, but also to the scientific community, and to the public.

The training focused on two topics in the responsible conduct of research: authorship and data management. The training curriculum was based on three principles. First, the training was conducted in the lab setting on a project that was currently underway in the lab. Second, the training was facilitated by the research team in coordination with a current graduate student in the lab. And third, the training was designed to reinforce lab members’ skills at engaging in the interpersonal interactions required to discuss ethical justification of research practices.

The study team randomized 34 science and engineering labs at UCR and at Scripps Research to either receive the training or to a control group that did not receive the training. The results show that lab members in the training condition report improvements in the quality of ethics discourse in their lab; a greater understanding of the relevance of ethics to their own research; improved lab climate; and an improved understanding of the importance of lab-centered policies governing authorship and data management.  

“The iREDS approach shifts the paradigm of research ethics training from merely telling researchers what is and is not ethical, to empowering them to incorporate ethical practices into their research workflow. The goal is to change the culture of science and engineering within the labs where research is produced,” said Kevin M. Esterling, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at UC Riverside and PI for the project. Dena Plemmons, lead author and co-PI, and the Director of the Research Ethics Education Program at UC Riverside, adds: “The ethical dimensions of science are always and already inextricable from the science itself; this research has affirmed the importance of having explicit and purposeful conversations about ethics in the place where the science per se is actually done.”

“COS is pleased to partner with the iREDS initiative through its collaborative infrastructure, the OSF. The OSF platform is designed to enhance within-lab communication and research transparency,” said Tim Errington, Director of Research at the Center for Open Science. “Introducing labs to OSF integrated with project-based ethics training provides an opportunity to incorporate ethical practices within the lab’s (digitally-mediated) routines.”


About the Center for Open Science

The Center for Open Science (COS) is a non-profit technology and culture change organization founded in 2013 with a mission to increase openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scientific research. COS pursues this mission by building communities around open science practices, supporting metascience research, and developing and maintaining free, open source software tools. The OSF is a web application that provides a solution for the challenges facing researchers who want to pursue open science practices, including: a streamlined ability to manage their work; collaborate with others; discover and be discovered; preregister their studies; and make their code, materials, and data openly accessible. Learn more at and

Contact for the Center for Open Science
Inquiries: Claire Riss
Twitter: @osframework

Contact for the University of California, Riverside Graduate Division
Inquiries: Kevin Esterling (PI)

Inquiries: Dena Plemmons (Lead Author)

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