Category / Research Ethics

NHS Research Ethics Committee Members day 2017

Tuesday saw the annual NHS Research Ethics Committee (REC) members training day in London. The learning outcomes of the day were:

  • To provide overview of the pilot work being undertaken in preparation for EU Clinical Trials Regulation
  • To introduce the REWARD Alliance and,
  • To consider how ethics committess can encourage researchers to engage more fully with the scientific literature both before and after studies are conducted

The morning focussed on updates on ethics regulatory procedures, the EU (see link below for slides) and changes in the Data Protection Act (but not the law of confidentiality) that have implications beyond healthcare research. There is also movement for a Public Involvement in Ethical Review (PIER) service, as well as adopting ‘e-consent’ for participation in health research.

EU Regulation_UK Research Ethics Service

The afternoon focussed on the REWARD Alliance and how ethics committees (and researchers) can help reduce waste in research. This group was established to promote a series of articles on research published in early 2014 in The Lancet.

Figure: Stages of waste in producing and reporting of research evidence (Chalmers & Glasziou, The Lancet 2009).

As a researcher and ethical reviewer, the day was insightful, interesting and relevant. Knowledge of the REWARD Alliance, particularly how researchers should diligently plan and prepare projects with clear pathways to dissemination. Although publishing demands differ between academia and industry (including pharmaceutical companies), all research should be designed fom the outset with clear outputs to communicate the findings.

If you would like further information from the day, send me an email.


Fake conferences are not fake news: beware predatory conferences


Academic have been warned for a decade about predatory Open Access publishers (van Teijlingen 2014). These are commercial organisations charging academics a publication fee on submission of their manuscripts with a promise to publish their work quickly online. The problem is twofold: first, these commercial organisations don’t offer proper peer-review and editorial quality assurance; and secondly, academic are being tricked into believing the journal is a legitimate scientific publication.  The second author receives on average six to eight invitations a week to publish in this kind of predatory journals – see below for examples. The first author, who despite having not worked in an academic institution for over three years, still receives such invitations to publish in ‘Journal X’.

Predatory conferences

A similar phenomenon to predatory journals is the predatory conference (Moital 2014; Nobes 2017; Grove 2017). These are pretend academic conferences of questionable value, established first and foremost to make money, not for the greater good of the academic discipline.

Both authors have received bogus and legitimate invitations to attend conferences. A predicament with such an invitation, which 99% of time arrives by email, is that it is not easy to distinguish between fake and real offers. For example, the first author recently received an offer (at short notice), to attend a conference in Miami in November 2017 (see below). This was on the back of an editorial he had published couple of months earlier. For a career researcher going from contract to contract, the appeal of being invited to present a keynote at a conference can be flattering, far less an honour and a boost for one’s career. Therefore, while the idea that if it seems too good to be true, is a prudent one to hold; there is also a temptation to follow through.

The author replied to the request quizzing the reason for the invite out of the blue. The answer was less than convincing, and a swift email by the author saying “Don’t tell me… You are offering me a keynote with travel and accommodation… Lol!!” called their bluff and ended correspondence.

But digging a little deeper he found there was a webpage dedicated to taking payments to attend the conference. In the digital world, a fool can be easily and quickly separated from his or her money.

Of course, it may have been a real conference at a real venue, and they really wanted him to speak. But discerning this is not easy at first…

Some of the warning signs/What to look out for

  • The conference email invitation looks very convincing (if not don’t even read it!).
  • The venue is good location as Nobes (2017) highlighted, “the organizers are more interested in marketing the tourist destination rather than the academic value of the conference”.
  • The conference covers too many different aspects or topics, as if the advert is designed to catch the eye of many people as possible who are vaguely connected to the discipline.
  • Mentions on associated predatory journals and ‘important’ organisations in the discipline.
  • Email and bank accounts that don’t look professional/ official.
  • Little mention of attendance fees, but after acceptance emails demanding a high conference fee and other charges.
  • Conference organisers are not academics, or unknown names.
  • Conference does not peer-review submission/ not provide proper editorial control over presentations
  • Signs of copying of names of existing academic conferences or scientific organisation and even copying of their webpages
  • Even more advertising than normal at a scientific conference.

Furthermore, Andy Nobes (2017) offered some helpful advice on quality of the conference websites in the list below. Andy is based at AuthorAID, a global network providing support, mentoring, resources and training for researchers in developing countries.

Who is at risk of falling for predatory conferences?

Academics need to be aware of money-making conferences and meetings without a true commitment to science. But some academics might be more at risk than others. Young researchers, PhD students and fledgling academics, living from contract to contract may feel any conference attendance is a potential career boost. Thus, such an invitation might seem flattering and an opportunity to good to miss. A way to show that he or she is a capable and independent academic.

Final thoughts

Most academics go to conferences for a combination of presenting their work to get critical feedback, making new contacts, sharing ideas and to be inspired. With such broad combination of motivating factors, the exact purpose of conferences is difficult to ascertain because there is no a priori agreed role and value of conferences (Nicolson, 2017a). However, there is evidence that academic conferences function to facilitate commodity transactions, be that knowledge, tools, skills, reputations, or connections, which reflects the neoliberal ethos in the modern academy (Nicolson 2017b). The predatory conference can be viewed in this light, where academia is more and more focused on generating revenue. It is at best scurrilous, and worst, criminal, for organisations to make money using such a confidence trick.  Always check which conferences are organised and advertised by recognised scholarly organisations in your own discipline. If uncertain ask a more experienced academic, a senior colleague or mentor.



Donald J. Nicolson

(Health Services Researcher, NHS Fife, and Independent Scholar; twitter @_mopster )

Edwin R. van Teijlingen

(Centre Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health)



Moital, M. (2014) Ten Signs of a Bogus/Fake Conference.

Grove, J. (2017) Predatory conferences ‘now outnumber official scholarly events’  (26th Oct.)

Nicolson, D.J. (2017a) Do conference presentations impact beyond the conference venue? Journal of Research in Nursing. 22(5), pp.422-425.

Nicolson, D.J. (2017b) Academic Conferences as Neoliberal Commodities, Palgrave Macmillan

Nobes, A. (2017) What are ‘predatory’ conferences and how can I avoid them?

van Teijlingen, E. (2014) Beware of rogue journals.


Conference on the impact of complications and errors in surgery held at BU

Things can go wrong in surgery, and dealing with the consequences of complications and errors is part and parcel of a surgeon’s life. Last week a conference was held at BU’s Executive Business Centre which explored the impact that adverse events have on surgeons and examined how these effects can be ameliorated. Eminent presenters from across the UK shared insights from their surgical careers and personal experiences, presented the latest research in the area, and considered how better support and training could be provided for surgeons.

The conference was organised by the Bournemouth Adverse Events Research Team, a joint research venture between psychologists at BU and surgeons at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, who are currently researching the impact of complications and errors which inevitably arise during surgery on surgeons.  Professor Siné McDougall, one of the research team, said: “Today is about trying to think about what we can do to support surgeons. When things do go wrong, the focus is rightly on patients and their family. However, surgeons are also dealing with their own feelings, particularly if they have made a mistake which they deeply regret.”

It was clear that the conference had touched on a key issue for surgeons.  This was summed up by the keynote speaker, Professor Sir Miles Irving, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at Manchester University, who said “The proceedings were excellent and clearly demonstrated that you have latched on to a problem which has the potential to become even more significant if not addressed.”  The Bournemouth Adverse Events Team is looking forward to continuing research in this area which will address this issue.

Congratulations to Dr. Jane Fry & colleagues

Congratulations to Jane Fry, Janet Scammell and Sue Barker  in the Faculty of Health & Social Science on the publication of their latest paper ‘ Drowning in Muddied Waters or Swimming Downstream?: A Critical Analysis of Literature Reviewing in a Phenomenological Study through an Exploration of the Lifeworld, Reflexivity and Role of the Researcher’.

This innivative paper proceeds from examining the debate regarding the question of whether a systematic literature review should be undertaken within a qualitative research study to focusing specifically on the role of a literature review in a phenomenological study. Along with pointing to the pertinence of orienting to, articulating and delineating the phenomenon within a review of the literature, the paper presents an appropriate approach for this purpose. How a review of the existing literature should locate the focal phenomenon within a given context is illustrated by excerpts from the literature review within a descriptive phenomenological study. This article was recently published in the Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology.  Click here for freely available copy online.


Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen


Psychology PGR Sarah Hodge presents at two prestigious USA conferences and wins prize

Representing the research team from Bournemouth University, Sarah Hodge presented cross-disciplinary PhD research at two conferences in Las Vegas (April) and Denver (May).

The first conference Broadcast Education Association (BEA) included a symposium organised and attended by key academics in the area of psychology and gaming and within this Sarah won top paper in the symposium track and 2nd place student paper. The research presented was funded by the University Student Research Assistant (SRA) scheme, which involved collaboration between departments and faculties. The research involved creating a game to measure in-game moral decisions. The research team included Jacqui Taylor and John McAlaney from the Department of Psychology, Davide Melacca and Christos Gatzidis from the Department of Creative Technology, and Eike Anderson from the National Centre for Computer Animation.


At the second conference Computers in Human Interaction (CHI), Sarah had a workshop paper accepted on Ethical Encounters in Human Computer Interaction and this naturally stimulated many interesting questions about ethics in research. Sarah was a student volunteer at the conference. Sarah was a Chair student Volunteer at British HCI 2016 that was held at Bournemouth University last summer and this experience supported being accepted as a Student Volunteer at CHI. From this experience Sarah was assigned the role of Day Captain, which involved supporting and overseeing the other student volunteers with their duties. Sarah found it to be a great experience and highly recommends other students to consider being a student volunteer as a great chance to network and it also helps with funding conferences as the registration fee was waived.


Hodge, S. Taylor, J & McAlaney, J (2017). Restricted Content: Ethical Issues with Researching Minors’ Video Game Habits Human in Computer Interaction (CHI) May, Denver USA

If you would like more information about the research please contact:

SciVal’s Field weighted citation impact: Sample size matters!

There’s been a buzz on social media recently about Field weighted Citation Impact (FWCI) particularly around the recent leak from the University of Manchester that the FWCI is one of the measures suggested by which to assess academics most at risk of redundancy:

In his recent blog on The Bibliomagician Blog  (reposted here with permission) Iain Rowlands a Research Information & Intelligence Specialist at King’s College London and a member of the LIS-Bibliometrics committee questions the stability of the FWCI indicator for sets of fewer than 10,000 documents. Ian invites others to use his methodology to further test his theory…

SciVal’s field-weighted citation impact (FWCI) is an article-level metric that takes the form of a simple ratio: actual citations to a given output divided by the expected rate for outputs of similar age, subject and publication type.  FWCI has the dual merits of simplicity and ease of interpretation: a value of 2 indicates that an output has achieved twice the expected impact relative to the world literature.  It is a really useful addition to the benchmarking toolkit.

The trouble is that, typically, the distribution of citations to outputs is highly skewed, with most outputs achieving minimal impact at one end and a small number of extreme statistical outliers at the other.  Applying the arithmetic mean to data distributed like this, as does FWCI, is not ideal because the outliers can exert a strong leveraging effect, “inflating” the average for the whole set.  This effect is likely to be more marked the smaller the sample size.

I explored this effect in a simple experiment.  I downloaded SciVal FWCI values for 52,118 King’s College London papers published up until 2014.  I then calculated mean FWCI and 95% confidence (or stability) intervals for the whole sample using the bootstrapping[1] feature in SPSS.  Then I took progressively smaller random samples (99%, 98%, and so on to 1%, then 0.1%), recalculating mean FWCI and stability intervals each time.

The findings shows how mean FWCI becomes less stable as sample size decreases.  Highly cited outliers are relatively uncommon, but their chance inclusion or exclusion makes a big difference, especially as the number of outputs decreases.  In this experiment, FWCI values range across four orders of magnitude, from 0.03 to 398.28.

FWCI chart_black

What does this mean for interpreting FWCI, especially when benchmarking? The table below offers some guidance.  It shows typical stability intervals around FWCI at different scales.  The final column assumes that SciVal spits out a value of 2.20 and shows how that figure should be interpreted in terms of its stability.

FWCI Table

It’s pretty clear from this analysis that you need to know when it’s time to stop when you are drilling down in SciVal!  Another implication is that there is no sensible justification for quoting FWCI to two let alone three decimal places of precision.  I’ve kept the second decimal place above simply for purposes of demonstration.

I am well aware that the guidance above is based on data from just one institution, and may not travel well. If you would like to replicate this experiment using your own data, I’m happy to share my SPSS Syntax file.  It automates the whole thing, so you just have to load and go off on a short holiday! Just drop me an email.

Ian Rowlands is a Research Information & Intelligence Specialist at King’s College London and a member of the LIS-Bibliometrics committee.

RCUK Policy and Guidelines on the Governance of Good Research Conduct

The RCUK Policy and Guidelines on the Governance of Good Research Conduct aims to help researchers and research organisations to manage their research to the highest standards, and provides guidance on the reporting and investigation of unacceptable research conduct.

The guide has been updated from 1 April 2017.  The updates include the need to notify the relevant research council of an allegation of research misconduct at the stage that it is decided to undertake an informal inquiry; not, as previously, at the (later) stage of deciding to undertake a formal investigation.  Please see the link above for the full changes.

*Book now* Research Application training- Spaces still available on the RKE Development Framework Pre-Award Pathway

The research and knowledge exchange (RKE) development framework offers a range of opportunities for academics at all career stages to develop their skills, knowledge and capabilities in relation to research and knowledge exchange. The pre-award pathway offers all of the starting information required by academics and researchers at BU to undertake research bidding.

Research Ethics at BU

All research being conducted at BU falls under the Ethics and Governance policies at BU. This session will offer Academics and Researchers an understanding of the Ethics procedures and Research Governance policies at BU.

10 April 2017 10.00 – 11.00 Lansdowne Campus

Getting started on applying for research funding

This session will explore how best to adapt research in response to the changing external environment. The workshop will provide information on the best routes to funding based upon career stages and also introduce how RKEO can help.

Thursday 13 April 2017 09.00 – 10.00 Lansdowne Campus

Pre-award finance

This session will introduce researchers to Full Economic Costs (fEC), transparant approaches to costing (TRAC) and the BU Financial Regulations. Guidance will be offered on how to cost projects in a way that funders will find acceptable. Training will be provided on producing the ‘Justificaton of Resources’ document required by many funders.

Thursday 13 April 2017 10.30 – 11.30 Lansdowne Campus

BU processes for applying for funding

This workshop will provide a short introduction/refresher on how to apply for external funding at BU. The latest update on the policies and processes will be introduced as part of this short session.

By the end of the session you will be familiar with the processes required to apply for funding at BU.

Thursday 13 April 2017 13.30 – 14.30 Lansdowne Campus

Quality approvals at BU

This course is aimed at those who are, or wish to be, a designated Faculty and UET Activity Quality/Peer reviewers. This session will provide an introduction/refresher of academic review policies at BU.

Thursday 13 April 2017 15.00 – 16.00 Lansdowne Campus

HRA Approval for NHS Research

HRA Approval is the new process for the NHS in England that simplifies the approvals process for research, making it easier for research studies to be set up. It replaces the need for local checks of legal compliance and related matters by each participating organisation in England. This allows participating organisations to focus their resources on assessing, arranging and confirming their capacity and capability to deliver the study.

Laura Purandare, Research Monitor RBCH, has kindly agreed to run a seminar on 4th May at 2pm in BG14 to explain the changes.

The session will cover:

  • What HRA approval is
  • The implementation of changes
  • The difference it proposes to make to health research in England
  • What it means for our researchers
  • Key resources

The session will last approximately an hour, and Laura will be available for questions following the session. We hope to see you there.

Seminar, Prof Edwin van Teijlingen, ‘Maternal Mortality in Nepal’, Wed 20th April, Royal London House, R303, 13:00-13:50.

Maternal Mortality in Nepal
Abstract: The session links various social and political factors that affect maternal mortality. Women dying in pregnancy and childbirth is very much a problem of and in low-income countries. This talk focuses on Nepal, one of the poorer countries of the world, to highlight a range of maternal health issues and wider influencing factors including globalisation and the influence of global organisations such as the World Health Organisation.

For further information regarding the Social Science seminar series, get in touch with Dr Mastoureh Fathi (