"Met de billen bloot" (airing your dirty laundry)

From The Embassy of Good Science

"Met de billen bloot" (airing your dirty laundry)

What is this about?

Everybody makes mistakes, even senior researchers, even after twenty years of experience… that makes you realize that we all make mistakes. It’s about how you act when they happen that counts.” [1]

This initiative concerns an activity that stimulates an open research culture in which research integrity issues can be discussed. The way in which this initiative tries to foster research integrity is through having face-to-face sessions about research integrity in which senior-researchers first share a personal case of ‘sloppy science’ or a research integrity dilemma. By starting with senior-researchers, the session stimulates junior- or other researchers to talk more openly about their obstacles during research projects. Whereas the session mainly aims to foster research integrity, it also stimulates trust in researchers and research so that an open environment and good communication among the researchers is fostered.

[1] This text is based on an interview with Mark Dubbelman, PhD student at the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam and current member of the quality committee.

For whom is this important?

What are the best practices?

How it works The session takes place annually in Alzheimer Center Amsterdam. All researchers are obliged to attend. Some preparation from the senior researchers in advance of the session is expected: they are asked to share an example of ‘sloppy science’ or a research integrity dilemma drawn from their personal experience. The session starts with a short introduction and is opened by the head of research. Senior researchers share their stories first, to show that issues happen to everybody, and it’s okay to talk about it. This is key to create an environment where it feels safe to speak about issues. Hearing about the issues and mistakes from the seniors stimulates junior researchers to talk more openly about the obstacles they have encountered in their research projects. The goal is not to discuss all issues during these particular sessions, but rather to keep researchers from feeling afraid or embarrassed to discuss issues during everyday research practice all year round. The session ends with educating the junior researchers about who they can talk to during the year if issues arise, as well as sharing the contact info of the hospital ombudsman.

Evaluation Whereas there has not yet been an empirical evaluation of the initiative, so far, the responses from researchers are very positive. The experience is that issues within the center are discussed timely. Researchers tend to speak first to people in their close working environment, whom they trust. Since the ‘Billen Bloot’ meetings are embedded in weekly scientific sessions, are costless, take place in the center itself and are mandatory to attend, the feasibility of the ‘Billen Bloot’ sessions is very high. This feasibility allows for a smooth implementation and therefore, it makes it a very attractive initiative.

The success of the formula in Alzheimer Center Amsterdam can partly be explained by the already open environment. It is possible that if this initiative is implemented in a less open work environment, it may be harder to make it a success.

What’s next? The ‘Billen Bloot’ sessions were initiated within the scope of the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam. However, in the last two years the initiative has been copied by other departments and institutions. Finally, researchers of Alzheimer Center Amsterdam have given presentations on the initiative to share the idea with others.

In Detail

Juniors only In 2018, the session was extended with a second meeting where only junior researchers attend. In this session they have the opportunity to discuss issues that they did not feel comfortable to discuss with the seniors present and/or issues related to supervisors.

Organizing members The ‘Billen Bloot’ sessions are organized by and for researchers from Alzheimer Center Amsterdam, Amsterdam UMC, which is also where the initiative was conceived by prof. dr. Van der Flier (head of research), in 2015. The ‘Billen Bloot’ sessions are organized by the research quality committee of the Alzheimer Center Amsterdam and receives no support from external parties.