Borderlands of Good Scientific Practice

Investigating a global phenomenon in its local versions

The project will investigate how under the changing conditions in research and innovation issues of respecting good scientific practice come up and how they are dealt with. In doing so it focuses on a specific institutional, epistemic and local context, i.e. an Austrian University and the field of life sciences/biomedicine, while looking at it through the lens of international debates. The project will not start from a fixed normative definition of good scientific practice (GSP), but much rather follow the notion through researchers’ narratives, institutional structures and wider societal narratives.

Even if institutions set normative standards, they are negotiated in everyday contexts and have to get meaning in scientific practice. We will therefore work with and develop the notion of “the borderlands of good academic practice”. Like that it wants to acknowledge the good scientific practice is often not as clear-cut as it might seem ex-post, but needs continuous assessment and negotiation among researchers. “Borderlands” are those zones and moments where negotiations (with oneself and with others) take place over what, in which situation is still an acceptable practice and what would go beyond. This points at the fact that what counts as good practice is always negotiated in context-specific ways and that there are grey-zones researchers regularly encounter/navigate, where they have to decide on the kind of scientific practice they are ready to engage.

We actually know very little about the dynamics at work. This project proposes to contribute to a better understanding of the micro-dynamics at work when it comes to make judgements about the limits of good scientific practice and to show how the conditions of contemporary research might contribute to fostering transgressions rather than hindering them. 

Borderlands of Good Scientific Practice - Investigating a global phenomenon in its local versions

Jubiläumsfondsprojekt der Österreichischen Nationalbank

Project leader: Ulrike Felt

Project staff: Florentine Frantz

Duration: 02/2017 - 01/2021

Research Activities

Scientific & Societal Discourses

Studying material on the global debates around transgressions of good scientific practice from major journals, we aim to identify the main lines of international academic debates on transgressions of good scientific practice. What is see as problematic when researchers transgress good scientific practice? What factors are made responsible? What fears about the advancement of knowledge are expressed? What changes to system are judged necessary in order to minor the phenomenon? What are the key-values of science to be protected?
By analysing key print media in Austria, we develop an understanding of how transgressions of good scientific practice are framed in the public discourse. What kinds of transgressions are reported? How are researchers portrayed as well as the more systemic conditions of research? What understanding of science and research as a practice can be identified? What are the moral narratives developed?

Institutional Environments

Analysing institutional guidelines and rules of good scientific practice, we will explore how institutions governing research imagine their role in identifying and dealing with transgressions. How do they define transgressions? What are the processes of identification and dealing with fraud? When do they decide to intervene, and if so, how?
These insights will be furthered in interviews with institutional actors from universities to investigate how they perceive the scope of the problem at stake. How do they handle cases? What room for manoeuvre do they perceive? What conditions do they identify as supporting transgressions of good scientific practice? Where are potential challenges in the current handling of good scientific practice transgressions?

Discussion Workshops & Interviews with Researchers

In the discussion workshops with the researchers, we seek to understand how researchers collectively identify key mechanisms at work in cases of major transgressions of good scientific practice. How do they connect these cases to their everyday experiences in the lab? Where do they see moments when intervention should have happened? We will see how they navigate their borderlands of good practice and when, where and in which circumstances they draw lines of good scientific practice.
In the interviews with participants from the discussion workshops and group leaders, we aim to reflect and deepen arguments from the discussion workshop, learn more about the relation of individual narratives as compared to more collective story-lines developed in group discussions and get a better view on hat good scientific practice means for those leading research groups.

Conference Presentations and Publications

  • ÖAWI Symposium, presentation by Ulrike Felt, Transgressions of research integrity. Should we be concerned?  “Promoting a culture of (research) integrity”, Vienna, 10.9.2018 
  • EASST Conference (European Association for the Study of Science and Technology), presentation by Ulrike Felt and Florentine Frantz, How institutions think: governing research integrity in university environments, Lancaster/UK, 25.-28.07.2018
  • PRINTEGER European Conference on Research Integrity, presentation by Ulrike Felt and Florentine Frantz, The shifting “self” in discourses on “self-regulatory capacities” of science. Reflections on who should care for research integrity, Bonn, 05.-06.02.2018
  • 4S Conference (Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science), by Ulrike Felt and Florentine Frantz, Irritation, responsibility and care: Nature and Science discourses on issues of transgressions of good academic practice, Boston, 30.08.-02.09.2017
  • Frantz, F. (2018) Just a little bit of Cheating?! - A Narrative Analysis of Austrian Newspaper articles on Scientific Misconduct. (Master Thesis). University of Vienna, Vienna.

Further Resources

  • Felt, U. (2015). ERA Policy Brief: "Research Integrity". https://era.gv.at/object/document/2260.
  • Felt, U. (2007). Zukunftsszenarien als wissenschaftliche Ressource: Begegnungen zwischen Wissenschaft, Politik und Medien. In R. Egloff, G. Folkers & M. Michel (Eds.), Archäologie der Zukunft (Edition Collegium Helveticum 3, pp.287-302). Zürich: Chronos Verlag.
  • Felt, U. (2005). "Zu SCHÖN, um wahr zu sein!" - Betrug und Wahrheit in der Wissenschaft. In W. Grond & B. Mazenauer (Eds.) Das Wahre, Falsche, Schöne - Reality Show (pp.61-68). Innsbruck: StudienVerlag.
  • Felt, U. (2005). Nichts als die Wahrheit ...?! Betrug und Fälschungen in der Wissenschaft. In K.P. Liessmann (Ed.) Der Wille zum Schein - Über Wahrheit und Lüge (pp.172-197). Wien: Paul Zsolnay Verlag.
  • Felt, U. (2004). Die plötzliche Sorge um wissenschaftlichen Betrug. Erwägen Wissen Ethik (EWE) 15(4), 469-72.