Stories of scientific misconduct, from plagiarism to falsification and fabrication of results are on the rise.
What leads scientists to make such poor judgements when it comes to their work? And how can you make sure you carry out your research with integrity? For instance, you might not make up your results – but what if you fail to record your data properly making your research hard to replicate? And how bad is it to plagiarise your own work, seeing as you wrote it in the first place?
These are questions tackled by a new report on responsible research conduct, published today by the InterAcademy Council and the IAP – the global network of science academies. The report examines how scientists can uphold values vital for science in an increasingly pressurised research environment.
Although the report says it’s impossible to accurately estimate the number of cases of irresponsible research that happen each year, they are not unheard of, with the US Office of Research Integrity reporting 9 findings of research misconduct in 2010 and surveys indicating that incidence is higher than official statistics might suggest. The percentage of scientific papers that have been retracted also seems to be on the up.
According to the report, with the rise of interdisciplinary research (where each field has its own established rules and practices), the growing importance of research in policy and public decision making, and a number of high-profile cases of misconduct reported around the world, it is more important than ever to address the issue of research integrity.
The report lists the key values for researchers as
When a researcher violates one of these values, that person’s trustworthiness is diminished, and the public’s trust in research can be damaged too. Do you agree with the list? Let us know which values you think are the most important in our poll, and in the comments section.
On top of these basic values, the report also dives into more specific issues of integrity. Interestingly, it looks at how research integrity must evolve as new technologies are used in research and in disseminating the results of scientific studies. For instance, electronic communications have made it easier both for people to plagarise, and for plagiarism to be detected.
The report also highlights the role of researchers in communicating their work. “This responsibility can take time away from research, but public communication is essential given the pervasive influence of research on the broader society,” the authors write. And a particularly thorny problem is the issue of conveying statistical probabilities in a way that that people understand.
When it comes to funding, the report calls for funding bodies to make sure that they do not place too much emphasis on quantity rather than quality, so as not to incentivise researchers to “publish as many papers as possible in a short period of time or face pressures to lower the quality or compromise the integrity of the research.”
It also calls for a better effort on the part of journals in making it clear when papers have been corrected or retracted, in order to prevent them from continuing to be sited.
How realistic are these recommendations? And what do you find are the biggest barriers to your own research values? How might these be addressed in the future? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.