Remembering research integrity leader Daniel Vasgird, December 30, 1945-January 30, 2020

Daniel Vasgird

Daniel Vasgird was a well-known figure in research integrity circles. He died in late January at the age of 74. We’re honored to present a remembrance that Michael Kalichman put together to honor Vasgird’s memory at the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) meeting next week in Atlanta.

Just a few weeks ago, the research integrity community lost a dear friend and leader. For those who did not know Dan well, it might help to describe his particular role in creating the still evolving domain of “research ethics.” 

Dan trained in social sciences, beginning with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in California at UC Riverside, followed by a move to New York, where he earned his Ph.D. in Social Psychology at Syracuse University. After completing his Ph.D., Dan accepted an NIMH post-doctoral research fellowship at Berkeley and worked in Asia as a human services educator and consultant for the federal government.

His career in research ethics began in 1988 with the New York City Department of Health. Dan both chaired the Institutional Review Board and became director of a Health Research Training Program. His career trajectory continued with City University of New York (2000-2002) where he was responsible for overseeing human research protections through 19 Institutional Research Boards, worked on developing a conflict of interest policy, and taught courses in research ethics.

Dan’s leadership in the field was next recognized by Columbia University, which recruited him in 2002 to be Director for their Office for Responsible Conduct of Research. His goal at Columbia was not only to foster a culture of compliance, but also of integrity. As always, he chose to go beyond the checkbox approach and to foster integrity through diverse programs and activities. One component of this was the creation of what remains one of the strongest online courses in responsible conduct of research (RCR). This course was subsequently adopted as a central part of the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) RCR course, a program Dan worked on for many years. Dan next moved to the Midwest to accept a position as Director for the Office for Research Compliance Services at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL). While at UNL, he implemented much of what he had done for Columbia and also developed a new six-part web-based RCR training program. Several years later, Dan returned to the east coast, taking a position as director of Research Integrity & Compliance for West Virginia University (WVU) in 2009. Dan retired from WVU in 2018, but continued an ongoing collaboration with Adil Shamoo to provide RCR education in the Middle East.

Dan was a leading participant in numerous organizations such as the Society of Research Administrators, CITI RCR Advisory Committee, Public Responsibility in Medicine & Research (PRIM&R), Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, and Responsible Conduct of Research Education Consortium. He could always be readily spotted at these meetings when he first arrived wearing his go to uniform: T-shirt, jeans or khakis, a jacket, and of course his NY Yankees cap.

One of Dan’s many admirable qualities was his unabashed pride in and admiration for his wife Susan and son Mischa. He spoke of both often. While they were certainly first in his life, Dan’s commitment to humanity also defined much of his career. Soon after completing his Ph.D., he concluded an essay he wrote in 1975 for the journal Crisis, with words that echoed in everything he did: “Humanity can only survive by complete regard for all of humanity. And any human scientist or science that brutishly supports alienation and non-identification with the subject matter studied is destined itself to become an alien and non-identifiable phenomenon.”

When one thinks of research ethics, the first things to come to mind might be research on research integrity, or creation of new regulations, policies, or guidelines. These are all of course important and Dan had a role in each. However, arguably his unique and essential contribution was to be the heart for the still new field of research ethics. Regardless of the program, Dan was always the first to anchor our work in service to the public we serve. He spoke of trust and accountability as many do, but his perspective was centered on those who are typically not in the room: The society that experiences both the benefits of science done well and the costs of science done badly. Without this focus all of the other efforts in research integrity are diminished. Fortunately, Dan’s voice was heard by many who can and will ensure that his message remains central to what we do.

In lieu of flowers, the family recommends memorials to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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