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Concordia addresses criticism of case study

President responds to factual inaccuracies
November 13, 2015
By Alan Shepard


In recent days, Kathleen Ruff, an advisor with the Rideau Institute, has taken to media to criticize a public relations case study that was posted online by the John Molson School of Business (JMSB) in summer 2015. The work in question, “Lessons from the Quebec Asbestos Industry: Can there be meaningful dialogue and consensus when facts come up against feelings?”, was written by John Aylen, a JMSB lecturer.

Ms. Ruff has alleged that due to the author’s past relationship with the industry, the case study resulted in a conflict of interest. Concordia has a robust process for reviewing such allegations, and did so in this case.

While the author clearly disclosed his former connection to the industry when applying for the grant, this was not disclosed in the version of the work that was posted online. As a result, Concordia removed the report from the university’s website with the author’s permission. The shared error is regrettable, and has been remedied.

However, Ms. Ruff’s critique and resulting media coverage contains false information that bears correction:

1. The university failed to protect the integrity of scientific research.

The report in question is not a scientific paper and never purported to be; it was a case study based on personal experience. It is not uncommon to have individuals with first-hand knowledge draft case studies because they are intimately familiar with events and have access to many of the proponents and stakeholders involved in the issue at hand. The views expressed in the work are personal and subjective. The report in question was not required to go through a rigorous peer review by experts. The content of this report is more analogous to an opinion piece.

2. The university has no ethical policy in place to deal with conflict of interest

The university takes research integrity very seriously. We have a research ethics policy, approved by Concordia’s Senate, which is rigorously applied in the appropriate circumstances.

Since this work was not a research paper, it was not subject to this process. However, the university invoked its policy on Conflict of Interest to carry out a review. That review confirmed the disclosure was not made in the paper, and the report was removed from the university’s website.

3. There is no system in place in Canadian universities to deal with scientific unethical misconduct.

This is not true. Canadian universities are subject to strict federal and provincial guidelines on the responsible conduct of research, namely the Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research and the Politique sur la conduite responsable en recherche of Les Fonds de recherche du Québec. Concordia University fully complies with both of these ethics frameworks.

4. The association that represents Canadian universities, along with Concordia, is calling for closer ties to industry.

We are and we will continue to work with industry, NGOs, and other institutions in civil society. We are preparing the next generation of leaders so we need to make sure that they have the qualifications they need to make a difference

5. This case study was produced because a former member of the university’s Board of Governors, who has donated funds to the university in the past, was connected to the asbestos industry.

Donors do not influence Concordia's curriculum or our research.

As with any work directly or indirectly associated with the university, the views of members of the Concordia community do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the university or its administration.


Alan Shepard

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