Journal of Responsible Innovation – Special Issue Call for Paper

'How Do Scandals Shape the Understanding and Practice of Responsible Research and Innovation?'

How Do Scandals Shape the Understanding and Practice of Responsible Research and Innovation?

Journal of Responsible Innovation-Special Issue Call for Paper


Key deadlines: 300 words abstract by 15 October 2023. Full papers by 31 January 2024 (detailed submission instructions is at the end of the page)

Guest editors and contacting details:
Joy Y. Zhang, University of Kent, UK (
Kathleen Vogel, Arizona State University, US (
Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, George Mason University, US (

Scope of the Special Issue

Scientific scandals are particularly important to our understanding and practice of responsible research and innovation (RRI). There is a shared belief that research scandals are most instrumental in shaking up scientific systems (Robaey, 2014) and a shared recognition of a rising frequency of research misconduct (Fanelli 2009, Drenth, 2010, Kornfeld and Sandra, 2016, O’Gardy, 2021, Roy and Edwards, 2023). Yet there is a dearth of systematic examination on how irresponsible research activities shape governance and scientific norms and on how we should engage with scandals or scandalous individuals responsibly and effectively to inform the future (Vinck, 2010, Owen, Macnaghten and Stilgoe, 2012, Meyer, 2022). This special issue aims to fill this gap. We invite empirically grounded and conceptually rigorous investigations on the mutual impacts of scandals and RRI.

Scandals are publicized transgression of moral or legal norms that cause public outcry (Adut, 2008). As such they are most informative to RRI from at least three different perspectives. From a system-structure perspective, scandals expose mismatches between existing configurations of law and the complexities behind the production of knowledge. Empirical studies have shown that scientists do not blindly submit to a discourse, but ‘shop for’ or actively cultivate socio-political environments that can accommodate their research agenda (Russo, 2005).This tendency towards ‘shopping’ was further made possible with the rise of the East. In her study of India and Japan, Sleeboom-Faulkner (2019: 372) found that when individual scientific practitioners acted as the intermediaries in organising international collaborations, they were also acting as ‘regulatory brokers’ who transform their geographic knowledge about different regulatory regimes into (scientific and financially) profitable ‘regulatory capital’. Moreover, public scrutiny over scandals are not limited to holding individuals culpable. Rather, scandals often lead to the identification (and possible correction) of the ‘organised irresponsibility’ embedded in modern bureaucracy (Beck, 1992, 1999, Giddens, 1999). The UK’s BSE crisis in the 1990s and Amy Moran-Thomas’ experience over the exposure of pulse oximters’ racial bias are such examples (Levidow, 1999, Moran-Thomas, 2020).

From a cultural normativity perspective, scientific controversies contest some of the regimes of normativity and legitimacy that we take for granted (Martin and Turkmendag, 2021). Societies are constantly seeking alignment between new technological possibilities and their desires and aspiration. Take the heritable human genome editing example, on the one hand, new ways of manipulating our genetic conditions open up our understandings of what constitutes plausible demands or reasonable welfare. On the other hand, it may simultaneously close down human possibilities (e.g., ‘in vitro eugenics’ and the revival of genetic determinism) and perpetuate old power relations. The evolution of cultural norms is not solely driven by technological advancements, as it is also heavily intertwined with discursive and institutional changes initiated by various stakeholders. Instances of scandals and subsequent societal reactions can provide insightful opportunities to explore how epistemic revolutions can emerge from various sources, and how they may sometimes come with inherent contradictions. ‘Rational’ technical progress may not be seen as ‘reasonable’ or socially legitimate (Irwin and Wynne, 1996, Jasanoff, 2004, Miller, 2008). They also compel us to reconsider ‘boundary-work’ (Gieryn, 1983, 1999) not only between responsible and irresponsible science but also the conventional boundaries between professional and non-professional practitioners (see Zhang and Datta Burton, 2022).

More importantly, scandals represent an epistemic opening that brings to light social processes and special interests underlying contemporary research and innovation that are otherwise hidden from public knowledge (Scott, Richards and Martin, 1990, Nelkin, 1979, Kaiser, 2022). It should be reminded that RRI itself is not a set of principles, but a family of processes in which different social and scientific stakeholders deliberate on the ‘acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products’ (von Schomberg, 2011: 9). The development of RRI is an expansion of agendas and communities which enables the continuity and transition of these deliberations (De Freitas and Pietrobon, 2010, Stephens and Dimond, 2016). Arguably, it took Hwang Woo-Suk’s stem cell scandal to renew global alertness to the detrimental effects that nationalism and patriarchal structures have in science (Gottweis and Kim, 2010). And it was Jiankui He’s CRISPR baby’s scandal and the subsequent bitcoin-funded designer baby project that drew the world’s attention to the capacity of new forms of research entrepreneurism (Zhang and Datta Burton, 2022).

But the dynamic between scandals and RRI may not be as straightforward as one may think. In recent times, there have been two waves of scientific misconduct. The first wave was between the 1970s and 1990s which led to administrative attention on the public engagement of science and on ‘Ethical Legal and Social Issues’ (ELSI) (see Engelhardt and Caplan, 1987, Nelkin, 1979, Bucci and Carafoli, 2022a). It also led to the proposition of RRI as a new governing framework (Griessler et al., 2023). The second wave is commonly recognised as starting from the new millennium (Montgomery and Oliver, 2009, Wible, 2016). Advancements in electronic technology have facilitated the systematic tracking of retractions and investigation of scientific misconduct. Thus, the second wave consists of not only high-profile cases but is characterised by the detection of irresponsible research behavior on a much larger scale (Wible, 2016). Yet there remain three key sets of ambivalences associated with the second wave that we hope the special issue can shed more light on. 

Firstly, there seems to be a paradox that, in an age where scientific integrity and reputation seem to become ever more important, cutting-edge research and innovation are becoming more scandal-prone (Drenth, 2010, Roy and Edwards, 2023). A survey conducted on 11,647 researchers reveal 2% had committed a misconduct at least once in their career (Fanelli, 2009). Research areas in which there are natural barriers for replicating results (e.g.,  the complexity of the experimental setup, or biological variability) are particularly prone to fraudulent behaviours and controversies, as can be seen in the Fleischmann–Pons claims on cold fusion and experimental biomedicine (see Eastwood et al., 1996, Ritter, 2016, Wible, 2016, Bucci and Carafoli, 2022b). Some warned that unless more systematic change is taking place, contemporary academia is vulnerable to a ‘irresponsible research perfect storm’ (Aguinis, Archibold and Rice, 2022, Bucci and Carafoli, 2022b).

Unravelling the processes of ‘taking responsibility’ and ‘making irresponsibility’ are equally important, and they may not necessarily be two sides of the same coin (Meyer, 2022). A common interpretation of the rise of scandals is through the lens of ‘academic capitalism’ (Hoffman, 2011). That is, the progressive privatization of knowledge and profit-driven academia publishing has led to a replacement of Mertonian norms of science by market mentality (Hoffman, 2011, Singh Chawla, 2021). Others have argued that the combination of developmental states, liberal research regimes, and illiberal laboratory cultures make Asian countries particularly vulnerable to questionable behavior (Lee and Schrank, 2010). But not all misconducts and controversies are ‘scandalous’. For example, academic journal’s publicity of paper retractions due to fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, boosts public confidence in the research community’s ability to self-regulate. But Jiankui He’s illegal application of heritable human genome editing constitutes a scandal, not simply because it was a brazen breach of both bioethical and legal codes, or that it remains controversial for its clinical necessity and scientific validity. It was China’s non-transparent political culture and the exposure of He’s transnational network of a ‘circle of trust’ made this case particularly scandalous (Zhang and Datta Burton, 2022). That is, it is not simply the madness of an individual but also what condoned and encouraged such wrong doings that shocked the world and continued to cause concern. In other words, what makes questionable research behavior particularly reproachable and damaging is highly context dependent (von Schomberg, 2015). Yet key questions on how actors and resources are mobilized to effectively counter-act mainstream research ethics remain under-explored.

Secondly, there is a need to critically examine how (and if) scandals actually bring changes to research practice and its governance. On the one hand, there is a general perception that many new research oversights at the national and international levels are a response to the growing publicity of scientific misconduct in the second half of the 20th century (Montgomery and Oliver, 2009, Drench, 2010). Individual victories, such as haematologist Nancy Olivieri’s 1996 whistle-blowing of Apotex’s clinical trial, also show that exposure of scandals have the potential to forge policy changes in academic journals and research institutions (Schafer, 2007). But on the other hand, scandals may not always trigger regulatory responses or even bring about discussions that are needed. Existing studies on biomedical scandals indicate that sometimes individuals or corporations can ‘simply tough out’ criticisms (Pelosi, 2019, 428, Sismondo, 2021). Spotlighting a single case may keep other development issues backstage and divert attention from other regulatory challenges (Prainsack, Geesink and Franklin, 2008). While there is an increasing transparency over institutional detection of scientific misconduct, how these malpractices are handled remains opaque (Hesselmann et al., 2017, Hesselmann and Reinhart, 2021). In other words, if we are serious about limiting future misconduct, we have to be more critical and reflexive about the ‘considerable silence about what has not changed’ and the regimes of power that influence what is not made visible by research scandals (Prainsack, Geesink and Franklin, 2008: 355).

Thirdly and relatedly, as both the organization of science and socio-political culture evolve, it calls for fresh reflection over how we could and should engage with scientific scandals to better inform future practice or in clarifying public doubts (De Freitas and Pietrobon, 2010). Studies of the first wave of scientific controversies have already questioned the validity of a traditional ‘symmetrical’ engagement and have cautioned academics to be more reflexive of their own positionality when investigating misconduct (Martin, 2015, Sarda, 2011, Scott, Richards and Martin, 1990). As Pam Scott and colleagues convincingly argued, social scientists engaged in the study and understanding of scandals are necessarily ‘captives of controversy’ (Scott, Richards and Martin, 1990: 475-6). This is not to discredit the reflexive nature and professionalism of social investigations, but to underline that social research on scandals inevitably weaves into social perceptions of and responses to that scandal. In this sense, social scientists are ‘captives’ of the controversies they study. To engage with scandals responsibly, thus requires researchers to be more conscious of how their study of scandals can also appear to be scandalous, when it unwittingly perpetuates or worsens misunderstanding (Scott, Richards and Martin, 1990, 491, Martin, 2015, Sarda, 2011).

Yet, a number of factors make it more challenging to conduct responsible and effective studies on scientific scandals. To start with, contemporary ‘cancel culture’ and widening ideological divides are new barriers for open and frank conversations over contested topics (Meyer, 2017). For example, when the guest editors of this special issue organized a public discussion with disgraced researcher Jiankui He in early 2023, they received unfounded criticism from the media and academic peers on rehabilitating He’s reputation, whitewashing China and tarnishing the reputation of the field of bioethics and biogovernance (Zhang et al, 2023). Our main aim of encouraging more Chinese academics to address regulatory gaps was repeatedly brushed aside by these criticisms. Yet it was precisely the censorship over engaging with controversial cases and individuals that left Jiankui He’s questionable research projects unchecked and unchallenged. Furthermore, discussions on scandals and misconducts also have an Othering effect, which is detrimental to forging solidarities on RRI and may blind us from seeing regulatory gaps. For example, existing studies have noted (unconscious) biases against certain cultures and a ‘Muhammad Ali effect’ in which researchers tend to see themselves as more honest and morally responsible than others (Fanelli, 2009, Hesselmann, 2009, Dimond, Lewis and Sumner 2023). Studies on China’s and India’s scientific rise have demonstrated that many of the regulatory and enforcement gaps observed are not necessarily rooted in cultural differences. Rather due to the scope and speed of their research development, both countries have a magnifying glass effect on many of the thorny issues shared worldwide (Zhang and Datta Burton, 2022). Thus, many have underlined a ‘decolonial’ urgency in approaching scandals and science policies (Hesselmann, 2019, Zhang, 2023). Finally, we need to re-think how we generalize lessons learnt from scandals. To be sure, each scandal is unique in the sense that it is infused with personality, localized research culture, socio-political particularities and a specific technical context. This is further complicated by the fact that we are in an era of ‘post-academic science’ (Ziman, 2000), in which the diversification of societal funding has given rise to a multiplicity of new configurations of research and innovations that cut-cross nation-state and disciplinary boundaries. Critical events such scandals can nevertheless serve as reference points and shed light on general patterns for governance. However, we may need new praxis to guide us on to what lessons can be generalized and within what scope.

We invite both full research articles (6000 to 10000 words, inclusive of references, endnotes) and perspective articles (2,000 words) that address but are not limited to one or more of the following themes:

  1. In what ways do scientific scandals inform or transform our understandings of RRI and its governance? When and why do scandals fail to instigate change?
  2. Why do scandals seem to be more frequent in contemporary science? What does it say about the nature of contemporary research and governing practices? 
  3. What are the conditions (e.g., cultural, political, or structural) that make scientific contention or malpractice into a ‘scandal’?
  4. Why should policy-makers or regulators care about scientific scandals? What is the value of studying scientific scandals or scandalous individuals for national, regional or global governance? 
  5. What is the role of social scientists in shaping public debates on research scandals and subsequent science-society and/or science-politics relations? 
  6. What constitutes ‘responsible’ social studies of scientific scandals? How should such studies be organized and its findings delivered, while being sensitive to diverse publics in a global age? 
  7. What are the new methodological innovations that can be used in identifying and analyzing scientific scandals to inform policy? How can we maximize insights from studies of individual (and often highly contextualized) cases to inform future governance (across different contexts)?
  8. What would make a study of scientific scandals irresponsible or invalid? How can we best avoid the social unpacking of scientific scandals from becoming ‘scandalous’ itself?
  9. How should we communicate scientific scandals and responses to the public? What needs to be communicated, at what point and by whom? How should the public be engaged in dealing with scientific scandals?
  10. How can we prevent a single incident of scientific scandal from gaining traction and diverting public attention from more important or urgent topics relating to technological advancements? Or, how can scientific scandals be used to gain further attention on important policy/governance issues that have failed to get traction.

Submission instructions

Please submit abstracts (300 words) directly to the guest editors by 15 October 2023. Those accepted will be invited to submit a full paper. Full papers should be submitted by 31 January 2024 on the Submission Portal. Please indicate upon submission that you aim to be included in this special issue. Accepted papers will be immediately published online. Please follow the journal’s Instructions for Authors

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Full bibliography of the Call can be downloaded here: