The middle position

From The Embassy of Good Science

The middle position

Instructions for:TraineeTrainer
Goal
Can you be too honest? This exercise helps to develop moral sensitivity with respect to basic virtues related to Research Integrity (RI). In particular it fosters reflection on the inherent moral ambiguity of specific virtues and how this ambiguity looks like in concrete research practice.
Requirements

You need to have read the instructions before experiencing the exercise.

Moreover, you need to be acquainted with:

a) The concept of virtue and its importance for ERI;

b) The concept of “middle position” or golden mean as described by Aristotle (watch this video)

c) The content of the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (especially the first section);

e) The definition of dialogue versus debate.

You need to have a background in research (i.e. be employed as researchers) or be a trainer/educator/teacher who has had experience in research in the past.
Duration (hours)
2
Participants
20
Part of Icon-virt2ue 2.svgVIRT2UE

What is this about?

This exercise is based on the assumption that it is not always clear what research integrity means in concrete situations, and more in particular how virtuous behaviors look like in concrete situations in which research integrity is at stake. Virtues are often described as in between two extremes of vices. For example, courage is a virtue between two extremes: cowardice and reckless. This exercise aims at looking critically into the nuances of the practical meanings of virtues related to research integrity (RI) in your everyday research practice.

Why is this important?

According to various RI codes of conduct or guidelines, researchers are expected to possess and to behave according to specific virtues such as: ‘honesty’, ‘reliability’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’[1]. But which specific behavior can make justice to for example ‘honesty’? Moreover, can I as researcher be too honest? Or too little honest? This exercise aims to foster a critical and joint moral inquiry into what it means to demonstrate virtuous behavior in a challenging research integrity situation.

  1. ALLEA - All European Academies. The European code of conduct for research integrity. Promoting Research Integrity in a Global Environment 161–168 (2017). doi:10.1142/9789814340984_0003

Practical Tips

List of virtues:

honesty; curiosity; attentiveness or observance; perseverance or patience; objectivity; humility to evidence; skepticism; meticulousness; courage; collaboration; resoluteness; accountability; availability; competency; reliability; sincerity; creativity; accountability; punctuality; truthfulness; selflessness; reflexivity; clarity of purpose; collaborative spirit; fairness; loyalty; moderation; positivity/open-mindedness; respectfulness.

Handout 1

FOR THE INDIVIDUAL PART OF THE EXERCISE

a. Situation & specific virtue that is at stake in your situation

Recall a concrete situation in your own research in which you had concerns about research integrity (or a virtue related to research integrity such as honesty, reliability, accountability), in which you were morally in doubt whether you as researcher should have done something differently. Which specific virtue is at stake in your situation?

b. Draw the continuum of your selected virtue

In order to decide which behavior fits well with the specific virtue at hand for each person and situation a balancing act is always required between two extreme positions (or vices): too little of the behavior related to the specific virtue, too much of the behavior related to of the specific virtue. To reflect on this for yourself in your specific situation, imagine a continuum of your selected virtue:

1.Behavior A. (virtue is too weak) 2. Middle Position Behavior. 3. Behavior B. (virtue is too strong)

1.‘Right end: What would you do if too much of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?

2. Left end: What would you do if too little of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?

3. Middle position: What would you do if you demonstrated the right behavior, which perfectly represents your specific virtue in that situation.

An example of this continuum could be:

‘Imagine a situation in which your supervisor claims to be the first author on a paper you wrote by yourself. Depending on the person you are and the specific characteristics of the situation, reckless behavior could be that you start to complain about this claim from your supervisor in the local media and that you threat him with quitting your job. Cowardice behavior could be that you say nothing and just do what the supervisor asks. Courageous behavior in the middle could be that you ask for a specific meeting with you and other supervisors in order to discuss your moral questions giving this claim, referring to the author guidelines of Vancouver.’

cowardice behavior ------------------ courage behavior------------------------ reckless behavior


Handout 2

FOR THE SUBGROUP PART OF EXERCISE

According to your viewpoint, which virtue is at stake in the presented situation of the chosen case presenter?

Describe your own three kinds of behavior in the situation of the chosen case presenter

  1. ‘Right end: What would you do if too much of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?
  1. Left end: What would you do if too little of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?
  1. Middle position: What would you do if you demonstrated the right behavior which perfectly represents your specific virtue in that situation?
1
Prepare for the session

One week before the exercise takes place you will be asked to think about a situation within your work as researcher in which you experienced a kind of moral doubt about what happened or about what you could/should do/have done. The case does not have to be written down beforehand. It does not have to be a dramatic case; ordinary cases which you are willing to share with others are also suitable.

2
Protect confidentiality

Prior to the session you will be asked to sign a confidentiality statement in order to formalize the fact that the information shared during the exercise will be kept confidential by you and the other participants in the session.

3
Experience the exercise

The trainer will facilitate the exercise by following the three parts.

PART I:

INDIVIDUAL REFLECTION

  1. Recall a concrete situation in which you had concerns about research integrity, and in which you had doubts about the right thing to do.
  2. Select one virtue, which was at stake in that situation.
  3. Reflect on which behavior fits well with the specific virtue at hand.

PART II:

REFLECTIONS IN SUBGROUP

  1. Select a spokesperson who can report on your group process to the larger group.
  2. Share your case with the group and listen carefully to other’s cases.
  3. Select a case to reflect upon collectively.
  4. Fill in the handout 2 individually (see practical tips).
  5. Share your notes with your subgroup by engaging in a group reflection/dialogue about differences/similarities related to the virtues and behaviors, which were chosen.

Part III:

PLENARY: SUMMARY OF THE SUBGROUP WORK AND OVERALL LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Report back on the discussion in subgroups.
  2. Formulate lesson(s) learned.
  3. Evaluate the session.
(For a detailed description of the steps see the trainers instructions).

Remarks

List of contributors:

Bert Molewijk, Giulia Inguaggiato, Rose Bernabe,  Panagiotis Kavouras, Eleni Spayrakou, Vicko Tomic, Franca Marino.

This training has been developed by the VIRT2UE project, which has received funding form the European Union’s H2020 research programme under grant agreement N 741782.

What is this about?

This exercise is inspired by an Aristotelian method of moral inquiry into emotions within clinical ethics support. Its main focus is letting participants look critically into the nuances of the practical meanings of abstract research integrity (RI) virtues in their everyday research practice. This exercise is based on the assumption that it is not always clear what research integrity means in concrete situations. Within this exercise, trainers foster reflection about virtues related to Research Integrity such as courage, accountability, honesty. By means of this exercise, participants reflect on which virtues are associated with research integrity and how virtuous behavior look like. Virtues are often described as in between two extremes of vices. This exercise aims at looking critically into the nuances of the practical meanings of virtues related to research integrity (RI) in your everyday research practice.

Why is this important?

In various RI codes of conduct or guidelines, researchers are expected to possess and to behave according to specific virtues by being: ‘honest’, ‘reliable’, ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’1. These virtues are intended to guide researchers in acting with integrity when they are confronted with moral issues regarding research integrity. But which specific behavior can best honor for example ‘honesty’? Moreover, can a researcher be too honest? Or: too little honest? Following the example of honesty: what is, for a specific person in a specific context, the right way to be honest?

This exercise aims to train you as trainer to foster a critical and joint moral inquiry among the trainees into what it means to demonstrate virtuous behaviors.

Practical Tips

List of virtues[1]:

honesty; curiosity; attentiveness or observance; perseverance or patience; objectivity; humility to evidence; skepticism; meticulousness; courage; collaboration; resoluteness; accountability; availability; competency; reliability; sincerity; creativity; accountability; punctuality; truthfulness; selflessness; reflexivity; clarity of purpose; collaborative spirit; fairness; loyalty; moderation; positivity/open-mindedness; respectfulness.

Handout 1

FOR THE INDIVIDUAL PART OF THE EXERCISE

a. Situation & specific virtue that is at stake in your situation

Recall a concrete situation in your own research in which you had concerns about research integrity (or a virtue related to research integrity such as honesty, reliability, accountability), in which you were morally in doubt whether you as researcher should have done something differently. Which specific virtue is at stake in your situation?

b. Draw the continuum of your selected virtue

In order to decide which behavior fits well with the specific virtue at hand for each person and situation a balancing act is always required between two extreme positions (or vices): too little of the behavior related to the specific virtue, too much of the behavior related to of the specific virtue. To reflect on this for yourself in your specific situation, imagine a continuum of your selected virtue.

1. Behavior A. (virtue is too weak) 2. Middle Position Behavior. 3. Behavior B. (virtue is too strong)

  1. ‘Right end: What would you do if too much of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?
  2. Left end: What would you do if too little of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?
  3. Middle position: What would you do if you demonstrated the right behavior, which perfectly represents your specific virtue in that situation.

An example of this continuum could be:

‘Imagine a situation in which your supervisor claims to be the first author on a paper you wrote by yourself. Depending on the person you are and the specific characteristics of the situation, reckless behavior could be that you start to complain about this claim from your supervisor in the local media and that you threat him with quitting your job. Cowardice behavior could be that you say nothing and just do what the supervisor asks. Courageous behavior in the middle could be that you ask for a specific meeting with you and other supervisors in order to discuss your moral questions giving this claim, referring to the author guidelines of Vancouver.’

cowardice behavior ------------------ courage behavior------------------------ reckless behavior


Handout 2

FOR THE SUBGROUP PART OF EXERCISE

According to your viewpoint, which virtue is at stake in the presented situation of the chosen case presenter?

Describe your own three kinds of behavior in the situation of the chosen case presenter

  1. ‘Right end: What would you do if too much of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?
  1. Left end: What would you do if too little of the behavior related to the specific virtue characterized your action?
  1. Middle position: What would you do if you demonstrated the right behavior which perfectly represents your specific virtue in that situation?
  1. From The Europeand Code of conduct, available at http://www.allea.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ALLEA-European-Code-of-Conduct-for-Research-Integrity-2017-1.pdf and the “Report on the results from the stakeholder focus group” by Ana Marusic et al.
1
Prepare for the session

Prior to the exercise you get in contact with participants and ask them to reflect on a personal case or experienced situation within their work as researcher in which they experienced a kind of moral doubt about what happened or about what they could/should do/have done (i.e. clear-cut cases in which it is absolutely clear that something is morally wrong with respect to RI are not good cases). It is important that participants reflect on their own experienced case, yet the case does not have to be written down beforehand. It does not have to be a dramatic case; ordinary cases which they are willing to share with others are also suitable.

2
Protect confidentiality

Within this exercise you foster reflection about personal experiences and moral uncertainty. For this reason, it is important to create a safe learning environment where participants feel confident to share their cases and ideas.

While facilitating the exercise try to protect participants’ vulnerability and encourage participate to respect others’ opinions.

Moreover, prior to the session we recommend asking participants to sign a confidentiality statement, in order to formalize the fact that the information shared during the exercise will be kept confidential by you and the other participants in the session.

3
Introduce the exercise – 20 min

a. Welcome participants and start the session by engaging participants in an open reflection (ice breaker). Ask participants:


  • Are you always honest (as researcher)?
  • Can you be too honest (as researcher)?

b. After collecting a couple of answers move to the explanation of the aims/learning objectives of the exercise. Underline that within this exercise participants are invited to reflect on their own moral challenges related to research integrity (i.e. one should not morally judge or condemn the other participants if they present their own personal case).

c. Give a brief introduction to the meaning of virtues, virtue ethics and the Middle Position . You should keep in mind and convey to the trainees the fact that the process of finding the middle position as described by Aristotle is something which requires practice and education. In that sense becoming accustomed to the virtuous life is something you develop by day by day experience. Furthermore, remind participant that the Middle Position does not have to be exactly in the middle (see the You Tube video on virtue ethics). The golden mean varies according to the situation. At this point it might be helpful to refer participants to the page “Virtues in research integrity” where a list of virtues can be found (see practical tips).

TIP:

During the exercise, it is recommended to refrain from having a theoretical discussion on (Aristotelian) virtue ethics and the respective meta-theoretical issues since this put participants in an abstract academic discussion which is not the aim of this exercise.

4
Individual reflection on personal case - 15 minutes

a. Ask each trainee to recall the concrete situation they experienced (this was part of the assignment prior to this meeting\exercise which you as trainer distributed before to the session). This should be a concrete situation in their own research in which they had concerns about research integrity (or a virtue related to research integrity such as honesty, reliability, accountability), and in which they were morally in doubt whether they as researchers should have done something differently.

b. Ask trainees to select one virtue which was at stake in their specific situation. Ask trainees to check whether and to which degree the virtues mentioned in the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (ECoC) are relevant here. If so, in which way? If not, why not?

c. Ask trainees to reflect on which concrete behavior in the specific situation fits well with the specific virtue at hand. A balancing act is always required to determine the right course of action. To reflect on this, ask participants to reflect on their own situation and imagine a continuum. For example, if courage is the selected virtue:

coward behavior -------------- courageous behavior-------------------- reckless behavior

d. Invite participants to write down three kinds of behaviors to answer the following questions (please ask the participants to use the handout 1 in the practical tips section).

1) What would you do if your behavior represents too much of the specific virtue? In other words, what would you do concretely if your behavior which should represent the virtue is too strong (right end of the spectrum)?

2) What would you do if your behavior represents too little of the specific virtue? In other words, what would you do concretely if the virtue which should guide your behavior is not prominent enough (left end of the spectrum)?

3) What would you do if you demonstrated the right behavior which perfectly represents your specific virtue in that situation? This means, according to your conviction and the particular person you are in that specific context. In this case your behavior representing the specific virtue is neither too strong and nor too weak. You stand between both extremes in your actions/thoughts/decisions as researcher. This is the middle position.


5
Group reflection on other’s cases (groups of 4 to 6 participants) (30 minutes)

a.   Divide participants into small group and ask each group to set a moderator/rapporteur (for the plenary session at the end of the exercise).

b.  Ask each participant to present (in 1 minute) the situation to their subgroup by describing the moral uncertainty or concern they experienced, including the specific virtue important in that situation. At this point participants should not disclose how the situation ended (what did they do in that situation).

a.   Ask each subgroup to choose (e.g. by voting) which situation and virtue they want to reflect upon as a group among the ones presented. Invite participants in each group to place themselves in the selected situation and ask the case owner factual clarification questions (i.e. no judgments, advice or conclusions);

b.  Invite the participants to choose which virtue they think is at stake in the presented situation and to write the three notes themselves for their virtue (by using the handout 2 available in the practical tips);

c.  After each participant completed the form, ask them to briefly share their notes with their subgroups by engaging in a group reflection/dialogue about differences/similarities related to the virtues and behaviors which were chosen. Invite participants to reflect on:


  • What is interesting or surprising?
  • Did you have different virtues in the first place?
  • What did you learn from each other with respect to how the middle position was described and reflected upon?
  • In which way were the virtues of the ECoC represented in the virtues mentioned by the participants?

6
Plenary reflection (20 minutes)

Ask rapporteurs to very briefly:


  • summarize the virtues discussed in the subgroup discussions, including differences and similarities;
  • summarize differences and similarities in how persons formulated the middle position (not the differences and similarities themselves but in general);

Tip: focus especially on virtues, and middle positions (not on the specific cases themselves)

To start a plenary conversation after the brief summaries of the rapporteurs ask participants the following questions:

-  Was it easy or difficult to find a personal case, and, to select a virtue for it?

-   Did you learn to look at inherent moral ambiguity of specific virtues in a broader or in a different way when these were identified by others? 

-   Would the case owner want to describe how he/she experienced the exercise?

7
Final reflections and lessons learned

Together with all participants formulate some overarching lessons-learned (for the group). Pay specific attention to the identification and justification of the middle position.

Ask participants how the lessons learned from this exercise relate to the ECoC and in which way this exercise will help them in fostering the principles and virtues mentioned in the ECoC;


  • Ask participants if and how this exercise and the idea of finding a Middle Position might help them when being confronted with a moral issue regarding Research Integrity in their work as researcher.
  • Briefly repeat the aims of this exercise and ask participants in which degree there are met.
Please write down on the flip-chart the main lessons-learned and some reflections on how this exercise might help when being confronted with a moral issue regarding Research Integrity in participants’ work as researchers.

Remarks

List of contributors:

Bert Molewijk, Giulia Inguaggiato, Rose Bernabe,  Panagiotis Kavouras, Eleni Spayrakou, Vicko Tomic, Franca Marino.

This training has been developed by the VIRT2UE project, which has received funding form the European Union’s H2020 research programme under grant agreement N 741782.

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