An app that makes solving research integrity dilemmas a game has been downloaded by thousands since its launch in 2020. The project, presented at the Global Research Integrity Conference in Cape Town, in South Africa last week is designed to get researchers talking about issues they might have had to deal with on their own before.
More than 12,000 people have used the Dilemma Game app in the last 6 months, and researchers in Belgium, Nigeria, Italy, Estonia, Czech Republic, India, Denmark and Turkey are among its top users.
Nature spoke to Nick den Hollander, Policy Officer at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where the game was developed.
Can you tell me a bit about the dilemma game and how it works?
The app presents different scenarios for people to think about and discuss. These dilemmas are written from the point of view of a doctoral student, a teacher or a journal editor. They give you some sort of context on the issue at stake. An example: “I’m a PhD student, I submitted my article to a top journal and it was rejected. But now my supervisor can help me because he knows someone who is on the editorial board. If I add them to the article as an author, I can have it published. What should I do?”
You get four options. The first option could be: “I should reject this offer and file a complaint with the ethics committee because my supervisor is trying to commit fraud.” Another might be: “I should add his name – it’s not so bad if the contents of the document are always the same, and sometimes you have to accept a little help.” And there will be two more options. Once you choose an answer, you can see how other players voted and if you are an outlier or if you match most other people. The main purpose of the game is to start a discussion.
So what is the answer to this dilemma?
There is no right answer. But the app sometimes indicates what would probably come closest to the guidelines of the Dutch Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. Once you have given your answer, you can read an expert opinion written by the Erasmus University Dean of Philosophy which gives you different perspectives on each answer. The point is to try to get you thinking about why you chose a particular answer.
Where did the idea come from?
It is based on a physical card game that my colleagues had developed. We did a survey in 2019, after the release of a new code of conduct, and it was clear that by turning the card game into an app, we could make it more accessible to people. The Code of Conduct outlines 5 core values for research integrity and outlines 61 ‘standards’, which describe correct behavior. The idea behind it is that it’s useful for committees that need to decide if someone has done something wrong to see what the standard says. There is a lot of discussion about standards – We have tried to implement this discussion with the app.
How many dilemmas are there?
So far there are over 100, and on the first Monday of every month we add a new one. I wrote most of them based on questions users submit. I recently received one from a supervisor saying, “I just started a project with a new PhD student and asked him to write a review. And she invented all kinds of literature that is not real literature, but fake things and alternative options. What should I do?” I hope this really lines up with what people are actually going through.
Do you plan to research user responses in the app?
It would be really interesting to see how people from different career stages or from different disciplinary backgrounds respond to dilemmas, but it’s difficult because confidentiality rules are very strict. We can only see how many people have downloaded the app and in which countries they are. Next year we will try to expand the application to include other types of integrity issues, such as harassment. We might also consider how we can collect more information.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.