Volume 95 Issue 16 | p. 15 | News of The Week
Issue Date: April 17, 2017 | Web Date: April 12, 2017

Protecting scientific integrity requires effort by the entire research system, report says

U.S. National Academies panel targets misconduct and other detrimental research practices
Department: Science & Technology
Keywords: research integrity, National Academy of Sciences, reproducibility
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Responsibility for scientific integrity goes beyond individual researchers and institutions, the report points out.
Credit: NASA
Photo shows a woman wearing a lab coat, safety glasses, and gloves pipetting liquids under a laboratory hood.
 
Responsibility for scientific integrity goes beyond individual researchers and institutions, the report points out.
Credit: NASA

The whole research community needs to improve and update the practices and policies it uses to protect the integrity of scientific inquiry, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine.

The report was five years in the making. At first, the committee intended to update a previous report, published in 1992, but the research environment had changed so much that the committee needed to start fresh, according to Robert M. Nerem, chair of the panel and professor emeritus at Georgia Tech. The biggest change from the last report, he says, was a shift in focus from individual researchers and institutions to the research community as a complex system that also includes funders, publishers, and scientific societies.

The new report calls on the broader research community to adopt policies that bolster the scientific research environment. In addition to misconduct—defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism—the report focuses on other detrimental research practices such as inappropriate use of statistics or irresponsible publication practices by journals.

Many of the report’s 11 recommendations are responses to the challenges of reproducibility. Publishers are encouraged to ensure the availability of sufficient information about methods and analysis to allow reproduction of reported results. In addition, researchers should describe all statistical tests used to analyze data and include negative findings. The report also advocates allocating funds for long-term archiving of datasets and computer code.

The report calls for scientific societies and journals to develop discipline-based standards for authorship, if they don’t already have them. Such standards should lay out the criteria for designating authors and disclosing their contributions and should ban such practices as honorary and ghost authorship. The American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN, was one of the sponsors of the report.

The report also calls for the establishment of an independent Research Integrity Advisory Board that cuts across disciplines and sectors.

“Integrity doesn’t change, but the world around us does change,” said Marcia K. McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, at the briefing where the report was released. “For a scientist, if you don’t have integrity, you have nothing.”

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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Comments
S.Venugopalan (Thu Apr 13 05:06:36 EDT 2017)
Easier said than done. In today's scenario of scientific research where cut-throat competition exists among millions of researchers to publish their work in premium journals, professional integrity takes a beating at times if not always. For instance, what is your methodology to check the falsification or convenient selection of experimental data, when the manuscript is sent by a reputed professor who may be guiding a large number of PhD students? Are you sure that a reputed journal considers only the quality of work and its impact to open up new directions of research as the sole criteria for publication and not factors such as the reputation of the author, the university or institute and their funding potential? Yes, it is a complex situation where a quality paper gets rejected and a not-so-great paper gets accepted for reasons other than scientific ones. In the process, many young and enthusiastic researchers get frustrated. A report like yours should be more specific with clear cut guidelines to all, particularly the leading journals for acceptance or review or outright rejection of a paper.

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