Monthly Archives: October 2017

Research misconduct: how many more?

There are several cases of research misconduct listed in The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, as other members of the Future Professoriate class have pointed out in their blogs, the number is somewhat astonishing. More astonishing is that it does not list all the papers that have been retracted for fraud across all disciplines. While looking at this list, I thought about how many other cases could have gone unnoticed? Or how many will surface in the future? I hope the answer is none. Another question that prompted in my mind was: what drives a “researcher” to fabricate or falsify data? Probably something that others, and you (the reader) questioned as well. Is it money? Is it pressure to publish? Is it anxiety? I don’t know the answer, perhaps it is a combination of multiple circumstances that drive someone to commit fraud.

One of the misconduct cases listed in the ORI website is that of Teresita L. Briones, former Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at Wayne State University. The main factor that impacted me from this case was the number of documents in which data was falsified/fabricated: 5 published papers and 3 grant applications. The date of the publications ranged from 2009 to 2015, which means that this former professor engaged in research malpractice for at least six years. There are no specific details about what caused these papers to be reviewed, but it seems a little “worrying” that the same person was able to publish manipulated material for six years. This prompts to other set of questions: are there tools that could be used to identify fabricated/falsified research material? People that are found to have committed research misconduct are liable for any health, economic or other type of consequences that could have been derived from the fraudulent publications?

In respect to the first question, it seems like the language used in the publication might be one variable to consider[1]. Negative language, lack of clarity and intentions to “hide” or obscure some parts of the paper could be some indicators of potential fraud. In a way, it is the intention of the researcher to avoid being caught what could help to identify misconduct. In relation to the second question, civil monetary penalties are defined under the False Claims Act (FCA)[2] when the fraud affects governmental programs. I did not dig further into non-governmental cases, and in the particular case of Teresita Briones, not sure if there was any liability besides the agreed sanction with the ORI.

[1] Bjorn Carey, Stanford researchers uncover patterns in how scientists lie about their data. https://news.stanford.edu/2015/11/16/fraud-science-papers-111615/

[2] http://www.policymed.com/2017/02/department-of-justice-increases-fca-civil-penalties-again.html

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Filed under GRAD 5104

Let’s erase DIVERSITY and INCLUSION

Hello readers, my apologies for leaving you alone last week, I had the intention to write but it never materialized. I went into autopilot mode, without being mindful about it, and time just kept going. In Shankar Vedantam words: that’s when the problem arises, when our unconscious self takes charge but we are not aware of it (“The Hidden Brain” thinking for us). I could share with you how I ended up in autopilot mode, but that is a story for another moment. Instead, I would like for you to remain with your mind wide open while I attempt to explain why I believe we should erase, destroy, disappear, etc. two very dangerous words: DIVERSITY and INCLUSION.

If you have read my posts before, you might think I am joking, based on my typical sarcastic tone, but NO, I AM NOT. I firmly believe that words such as DIVERSITY and INCLUSION, as well as MINORITY, UNDERREPRESENTED, and similar words that speak of differences and discrimination should be erased from our conscience, from our vocabulary. This might sound controversial, but here is my reasoning for this proposition. All these words have the unattended consequence of “stating, highlighting” the existence of DIFFERENCES, instead of recognizing and giving value to the existence of IDENTITY. I know that for some it might seem a simple matter of interpretation, a matter of linguistics, but words are powerful, as Professor Christine Labuski succeeded to highlight in the description of the Universal Precautions project1. She discussed the great impact that talking about “us” instead of “them” has on discussion of sensitive topics, and the benefit of thinking that the person sitting on your side might have gone through that hard topic situation (e.g. abortion, racism, rape, transgender). When you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you are more mindful about the words you use, you are likely to look at a problem from different angles, from another perspective.

Another problem that I have with the words DIVERSITY and INCLUSION, not with the intention of promoting diversity and inclusion. Is that now you see them almost everywhere, and seems like all organizations need to emphasize that they promote an INCLUSIVE environment, even if in reality they don’t. But hey, it looks good to advertise it. “Corporations spend billions of dollars to attract and manage diversity both internally and externally, yet they still face discrimination lawsuits, and the leadership ranks of the business world remain predominantly white and male”2.

Let’s go back to the previous idea of recognizing the existence of differences versus identities. Probably this is not the best moment to introduce this question but, what do you think of when you read: “we need to promote diversity and inclusion”. It might be my personality, but to me it brings negativity, I directly associate this phrase with the need to overcome differences between us, instead of valuing what each can bring to the table. Why do we have to highlight that there are differences between us? I acknowledge the importance of recognizing that not everyone is equal, each person is unique in multiple senses. Should we talk more about developing OPEN ACCESS environments instead of promoting DIVERSE and INCLUSIVE environments? Perhaps “open access” is not the best term either, but from my perspective it partially removes the focus around highlighting the differences. The later a word which I admit to associate with negativity and discrimination, a perspective you might not have. But then again, the same word could have a completely DIFFERENT meaning and context, highlighting once again that the problem seems to be in: not being open to other perspectives.

Diversity and inclusion/inclusive, bring the same negative effect that terms like minority and underrepresented create for me. The later speak of someone else being superior, even if that might not be the purpose. That is why I don’t consider myself a minority, nor part of an underrepresented group, I consider myself a human.

Following my thought process in this post might not have been as direct as I wished. But I hope you forgive me. At the end, probably I didn’t succeed to explain why I consider DIVERSITY and INCLUSION to be dangerous words, and perhaps my writing was more on the lines of a “confuse the masses and you will be king” speech type. But I hope your mind continues to be wide open, to be prepared to carefully listen and read what others have to said, and not going into autopilot mode, ignoring mode, as soon as you hear ideas coming from other perspectives.

You see, at the end, it is not a matter of erasing DIVERSITY and INCLUSION (the words) and replace them with another term, it is a matter of acknowledging the importance of perspectives and what body language, written words, spoken words, etc. could mean to someone else. How messengers can impact the message being delivered. How we should give always our best, no matter who is in front. How there is always more than one story to be told. If you haven’t heard to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk, please do so: “The Danger of a Single Story”.

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more mindful. Let’s forget about A, B, C, D, E and F (the grades, not the letters) … easier said than done. Let’s focus on making sure to help each other out. Let’s create successful teams. Let’s remember that we are unique, and the only single common element among us, but the most important one, is that we are HUMANS.

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

  1. Christine Labuski, project description for Universal Precautions (not open for public access)
  2. Katherine W. Phillips, “How Diversity Makes us Smarter” (2014 – updated 2017)

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Filed under GEDI F17

Ready! Set! Go!… My Rookie Season

Welcome readers! I hope you like the post that you are about to read. But most importantly, I hope you give me as much feedback as you want. If perhaps you don’t want to make public comments, you are always welcome to e-mail me directly at cfmp01@vt.edu

This story is about a young man, who is getting ready to be an instructor of record for the first time (i.e. he will be in the driver’s seat, and not the co-pilot). Like other rookies, he used to believe that he was ready for the first professional race, and that his previous experiences as a semi-pro driver had been enough to prepare him. But, as in the case of many rookies, he was wrong. He would have probably gone out of the road pretty soon, if not for the mandatory driving certificate that the team leader wanted him to take. As a requisite to be certified, the young driver had to enroll in three preparatory courses. One, in particular, changed his mindset from the very beginning. He realized that although the semi-pro experience had been definitely helpful, getting in the seat of a Formula-1 car, a NASCAR vehicle, a Superbike, or in plain words: being in control of his own class, with all the details of it, was going to be a different story.

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Did you like the analogy between being a driver and a teacher?

A driver has to be aware of his surroundings, as well as the condition of his car. That is how I see a teacher, someone who needs to be confident in front of the class, with the 5+ senses wide open, analyzing the environment, and be ready to adapt for the multiple unexpected situations that could occur. Even if the class content has been well prepared in advanced. I plan to find a strong team of collaborators and trust them, just as professional drivers trust their team. I don’t see my teaching as a one-man journey, although I will certainly have my own teaching voice. I plan to rely in both, “experienced” professors (team leaders) and my students (mechanics and apprentice drivers) to set up a well lubricated learning environment (the car). I am planning to be a risky driver when appropriate (i.e. try not-usual engineering teaching strategies), but also a defensive driver, observing the student’s engagement, progress and evaluating if the objectives are being met. I am aware that incorporating too many changes in the first race, could end in a disaster, reason for which I plan to discuss strategies with the team leaders (glad to have at least two mentors on board).

An important sentence was hanging in the middle of the previous paragraph: “have my own teaching voice”. I enjoyed reading Sarah E. Deel’s journey on this topic. I have gone through several of the questions she makes, and agree with several of her statements. I will admit that currently I already have a teaching style that I want to portray, the Socratic Method. It worked during the laboratory sessions I taught. I like to encourage people to find the answers by themselves, rather than me providing the answers. I like to answer with more questions when possible. I know I will have to be careful and don’t exaggerate, and thanks to Sarah’s article, I will make sure to explain to a certain degree the purpose of my teaching approach. If it ends up not working, then, with the help of the class, I hope to make the necessary twists to reach a beneficial environment.

Readers, here I do need your help, especially if you have taught before. I definitely want to connect with the students, and let them know that I care about their progress in the class. Some sort of boundaries will be definitely there, and I haven’t had a problem keeping those in the past. But besides all the questions about teaching strategies, being super serious or a comedian, the question that is puzzling me a little is: How should students address to me? Mr. Mantilla? Professor (even if I don’t have the official title)? How about Carlos? Other?

My current thought is Carlos, and let me share with you some reasons for it. First because they would probably mispronounce my last name, which actually is Mantilla Peña. Jokes aside (maybe not so much), I don’t feel like Mr. Mantilla, it just sounds too serious to me. If you know me, you might think that it could actually fit my personality, since I appear to be serious all the time, and although that might be true (apparently), I just don’t like Mr. Mantilla, not yet anyways. The second alternative: Professor. Not that I really care to be honest, but not sure if faculty members would dislike the idea of students calling me professor. And Carlos, it just fits me, that is how I have been always called (except family and friends nicknames of course). And I don’t see a reason why it will be a problem, although some have suggested that it might lead to boundaries not being clear.

So I spend two paragraphs in a question that might sound silly, but perhaps it could be the difference between a left foot semester (not so good) and a right foot one (great). Besides that, as I tried to share before. I want to be “fair”, “approachable”, “respected” and a good driver during my rookie season. I want my team of mechanics and apprentice drivers to succeed, to reach the objectives set for the course and to collaborate between them, I want a team victory.

Let’s keep learning. Let’s keep educating. Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s keep asking WHY. Let’s continue to be more mindful. Let’s forget about A, B, C, D, E and F (the grades, not the letters). Let’s focus on making sure to help each other out, create a good pipeline for students to be successful, a well lubricated learning environment. Let’s be great drivers and go for a team victory.

Carlos F. Mantilla P.

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Filed under GEDI F17