Maintaining good research practice: Research integrity in the UK

Maintaining good research practice: Research integrity in the UK

G Model MAT-6241; No. of Pages 2 ARTICLE IN PRESS Maturitas xxx (2014) xxx–xxx Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Maturitas journal homepage...

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G Model MAT-6241; No. of Pages 2

ARTICLE IN PRESS Maturitas xxx (2014) xxx–xxx

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Maturitas journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/maturitas

Editorial

Maintaining good research practice: Research integrity in the UK

Some standards are fundamental to the practice of research. Do not make up your data or results. Avoid passing off the work of others as your own. Do not mistreat participants and patients. Recognise that stealing research funds will be frowned upon. These standards cut across all disciplines of research and apply to researchers wherever they are based – in universities, hospitals, private sector bodies or elsewhere. They are standards that can justifiably be described as ‘obvious.’ A common assumption, therefore, is that it is straightforward for researchers to adhere to them. After all, who would want to do otherwise? In 1995, Malcolm Pearce, a British consultant obstetrician, was removed from the medical register for research fraud concerning two papers in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. One paper described how a healthy baby had been born after he had successfully reimplanted the embryo of an ectopic pregnancy. Neither this, nor the three-year trial described in the other paper, had actually happened [1]. It seems incredible that a researcher would publish even one made-up study but, unfortunately, this ties in with a growing body of evidence suggesting that fraud and misconduct in research are not rare. A 2009 meta-analysis reported that approximately 25% of scientists admitted to having fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once [2]. Another study reported that fraud is a more common cause of retractions than honest error [3]. Research misconduct takes place more often than we assume, which suggests that the mechanisms that should identify issues prior to publication are not as effective as we would like. A sense of perspective is important; UK research is not overrun with fraud. We should certainly not view all researchers as potential miscreants, in need of regulation and stifling oversight. But dishonest research does take place and it causes very real harm: to the integrity of the scientific record; to the reputations of researchers and institutions; to the public’s trust in research; and, most importantly, to participants and patients. There is no room for complacency. To me, the most important lesson of the Pearce case is not that two made-up studies could be published successfully. It is that other researchers put their names as co-authors on the two papers without checking the validity of the research. This included a coauthor who was not only the head of Mr Pearce’s department but also the editor of the journal in question and the then president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists [1]. Studies suggest that ‘questionable research practices’ such as ignoring criteria for authorship are even more common and more insidious than cases of major fraud. The 2009 meta-analysis

reported that just over a third of survey respondents had admitted to such practices, which could be described as ‘deliberately sloppy research’. More needs to be done to remind researchers of fundamental standards of integrity and ethics. We must also recognise that adhering to those standards can often be challenging. The UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) was set up to help the research community with this. Different countries have adopted various responses to issues of research integrity. All recognise that the ultimate responsibility for the integrity of a research project rests with the researcher(s) in question. What varies are the systems to help ensure that researchers meet those standards and to monitor their effectiveness. The UK has historically taken a nonregulatory approach, instead promoting research integrity as an inherent part of professional practice. To that end, UKRIO was created to promote good practice, assist with the prevention and investigation of misconduct and questionable practices, and to offer advice to researchers, institutions and the public [4]. While UKRIO offers an advisory approach, with no statutory powers, in our experience change can be brought about through non-regulatory actions: by employers, funding agencies, learned societies and organisations such as ourselves. UKRIO is the only body which has offered dedicated support to the UK research community across all subjects in the field of research integrity. No other organisation has comparable experience in providing such support, which complements the standards of regulators and funders. Supported by a variety of initiatives [5], universities in the UK are building on their existing mechanisms to move towards a more sustained and visible approach to maintaining research integrity. UKRIO’s work supports both these institutional efforts and those of individual researchers. We set out standards for research, provide education and training, and offer a ‘helpline’ advisory service to the research community and the public, advising on more than one case a week. Over 50 universities use UKRIO’s published standards, such as our Code of Practice for Research [4]. There is no need for over-zealous ‘policing’ of researchers, and systems to support professional practice must always be proportionate. But we must recognise that pressures, whether internal or external, can cause researchers to game the system, cut corners or worse. While basic standards can appear to be straightforward, putting them into practice can be more challenging. Reminding researchers of their responsibilities, and of the harm that failing to meet them can cause, is a long-term exercise, requiring strong leadership within the research community. More needs to be done to safeguard the honesty, accuracy and ethical standards of research.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.08.010 0378-5122/© 2014 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Please cite this article in press as: Parry J. Maintaining good research practice: Research integrity in the UK. Maturitas (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.08.010

G Model MAT-6241; No. of Pages 2

ARTICLE IN PRESS Editorial / Maturitas xxx (2014) xxx–xxx

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Contributor JP is the sole author. Competing interests James Parry is Chief Executive of the UK Research Integrity Office. Funding None was sought or secured for writing this editorial. Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed. References

[2] Fanelli D. How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data. PLoS ONE 2009;4(5):e5738, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0005738. Available from: http://www. plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005738 [3] Fang FC, Steen RG, Casadevall A. Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1220649110. Available from: http://www.pnas. org/content/early/2012/09/27/1212247109.Abstract [4] UK Research Integrity Office. www.ukrio.org [5] Universities UK. The concordat to support research integrity; 2012. from: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/ Available Documents/2012/TheConcordatToSupportResearchIntegrity.pdf

James Parry Chief Executive, UK Research Integrity Office, Sussex Innovation Centre, University of Sussex, Science Park Square, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9SB, United Kingdom E-mail address: [email protected] Available online xxx

[1] Dyer O. Consultant struck off for fraudulent claims. BMJ 1995;310:1554, Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6994.1554a. http://www.bmj.com/content/310/6994/1554.2

Please cite this article in press as: Parry J. Maintaining good research practice: Research integrity in the UK. Maturitas (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.08.010