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Ruminations about a grant professional’s obligations

Some sponsors and funding programs limit the number of references that can be included with a proposal. They may do this by capping the number of references allowed, by limiting the number of pages for citations, or by requiring that the references be included in the main proposal and adhere to that section's page limit.

Do we, as grant professionals, have an obligation to our profession and clients to inform sponsors when their guidelines promote poor research and writing practices?
Sponsors who limit the number of references or space available for citations, are, in my opinion, permitting the applicant to be lax with citing their sources. They are not outright saying plagiarize, but they are suggesting to the applicant that s/he choose which information to cite. I feel that they are also implying that it's sufficient to give one citation as an example, rather than provide a list.
Citation limits have irked me for a while now and when I recently joined GPA and read the Code of Ethics I began thinking about it again. Before we go to the Code, there are a few things I should disclose.
My Ph.D. is in history. We write extensive literature reviews and exhaustively cite our sources. Furthermore, ethics used to consume a lot of my effort. I gave training sessions to graduate students on the responsible conduct of research and social responsibilities of researchers. I was co-PI or PI on three awards from the National Science Foundation to support ethics research and training in STEM fields. I also spent a year working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with its two ethics programs on Scientific Integrity and Human Subjects Research. While history and ethics are no longer core aspects of my day-to-day job, the practices and values they taught me remain strong.
The GPA Code of Ethics under Presentation of Information says that “14. Members shall not plagiarize in any professional work…” With this in mind, let's consider a statement elsewhere in the Code of Ethics that says “members, among others, are to become leaders and role models in the field of grantsmanship.”   
It seems to me that as leaders and role models in the field we have an obligation to call out policies and procedures that may encourage dodgy practices. And, frankly, I'm not sure who, besides the grant professional, might call attention to such concerns.
What are your thoughts?
Do we, as grant professionals, have an obligation to point out to sponsors when their procedures and guidelines promote poor practices and behaviors? Why or why not?

Melinda Gormley, Ph.D., is Research Development Officer of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Her Ph.D. is in history of science and her research focuses on the role of scientists in public policy and the life sciences in 20th-century America. She previously taught professional development workshops on ethics, specifically responsible conduct of research and social responsibilities of researchers.

GPC competency: Knowledge of nationally recognized standards of ethical practice by grants professionals



By: Tamara Fox
On: 04/22/2019 14:19:59
I agree that few funders encourage or allow appropriate citation of sources in grant proposals. I think the limitations are primarily with the software most grantmakers use these days and the emphasis on brevity and clarity. It does seem counter-intuitive when they also demand accountability and measurable outcomes, as these seem to go hand in hand with accuracy and clarity in the proposal itself. I try to include resources that support our request for funding wherever possible, and I always cite the source when I use someone else's ideas/material, but online software can make this difficult -- and sometimes impossible.
By: Martha Symes
On: 04/23/2019 15:50:06
You make a very valid point, Melinda. I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of plagiarism am seeing, and how casually it is accepted. It should never be something which "only academics do" but rather what any responsible writer should do.
By: Donna Fioravanti
On: 04/24/2019 14:41:36
The others who might call attention to our concerns are the authors of the research that is being potentially misused or misquoted.
By: Melinda Gormley
On: 05/01/2019 17:27:01
Thanks for you comments. Tamara, asking for short proposals seems to stem, at least partially, from a desire to not overload reviewers. It does seem to counteract the sponsor's expectations for accountability and outcomes. I consider citations as one of several ethical issues in grant development. As you point out, Martha, plagiarism is an issue. Many required documents that accompany proposals can be put together by copying information from websites. Donna, proposals are not widely circulated so it seems unlikely that authors will know that their research has not been cited. If the person whose work has not been cited is a reviewer, then the proposal will probably not be funded. And if the person who submitted the grant gets feedback from reviewers they may learn about this failure to cite relevant articles. Yet, some sponsors don't give comments to declined proposals. This too can be due to concerns about the workload for reviewers and sponsors.

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