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  • Writer's pictureAsh Bassili

Research is so hard to do well

A recent report from the National Science Foundation, National Science Board estimated that global spending on engineering and sciences research is in the order of US $2.4T. These are important initiatives that increase knowledge, drive economic growth, improve health, and drive innovation.

Much of this research occurs in university environments which are a complex ecosystem of researchers, team members, external collaborators, legal services, ethics boards, and librarian resources that all have critical roles to play in the security and privacy of the research data collected. The need for diligence in research data management is especially important whenever human trials are part of the research or if it is the subject of patent protection.

How universities do research matters as much as the research they do!

But how well is that research being managed? Because of the complexity of university environments universities have become 'soft targets' for malicious actors with IP theft intent. Universities are experiencing data losses and breaches with increased frequency.

In a February 2023 article in The Economist titled "There is a worrying amount of fraud in medical research" a review of published research papers has determined the following alarming observations:

  • Data and image manipulation.

  • Papers using data from one disease and applying it to another disease altogether.

  • Paper mills turning out bogus research.

  • Accelerating the pace of retractions due to fraudulent data.

  • 93% of requests for underlying data are not addressed.

These symptoms have resulted in various medical procedure recommendations that have absolutely no basis. The reputational risks to researchers, the institutions they are associated with, as well as the journals that publish these papers, are enormous.

Data management and governance are extremely complicated.

Our recent work with a leading research-intensive Canadian university has given us great insights into this complex ecosystem and the need to have operational governance with supporting methods, practices, systems, and protocols that support researchers and mitigate the risks of poor data management.

While most researchers understand the importance of data management plans in conjunction with sensitive research, as it is a requirement of most funding organizations, the ability of institutions to monitor the compliance of researchers and their teams against these plans is all too often quite limited. Research legal services and research ethics board teams are stretched and can't effectively ensure the right data-sharing agreements are in place or that participant consent forms are signed prior to sampling, and adequately secured.

Point solutions exist to address certain aspects of this complexity. For example, there are secure data repositories to hold sensitive research data. There are tools to manage a researcher's Data Management Plans (DMPs). There are tools to address the specific needs of Research Ethics Boards (REBs). But there are very few tools to address the researcher's ability to manage access to their research data.

Future research management will focus on data security, operational efficiencies, and publishing quality.

At myLaminin, we believe that tools that can bring these needs together in an integrated way can reduce the risks of data loss or breaches, reduce reputational risks for researchers and the institutions they are associated with, and address the significant operational friction between all parties. We believe that blockchain and Web3 technologies can deliver massive operational savings and confidence in research management practices and will increasingly be relied on to do so.


Image by Andrew Neel
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