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

U.S. National Academies panel targets misconduct and other detrimental research practices

by Celia Henry Arnaud
April 12, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 16

Photo shows a woman wearing a lab coat, safety glasses, and gloves pipetting liquids under a laboratory hood.
Credit: NASA
Responsibility for scientific integrity goes beyond individual researchers and institutions, the report points out.

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.”


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