Research Integrity

Science Policy Working Group session at ESOF 2016 – Research Integrity

EuroScience Science Policy Working Group – a Focus on Research Integrity

Science today is an inherent ingredient in our lives. Our world is constantly changing due to scientific achievements. New knowledge and understanding means also increasing demands on science. Right now we are on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution: after the steam engine, the electricity and the information technology we are quickly moving into the era of IoT (Internet of Things) with rapid impact and disruptions of all kinds of systems, including research. There are several drivers: globalization, new technology, instantaneous communication and processes, and our growing awareness of the earth’s finite resources – the Grand Challenges.

Science is under pressure as it is asked to help solve small as well as our most pressing problems. It brings new opportunities as well as threats for the research community. The new situation will be very positive in many aspects but at the same time, a number of difficult issues are growing that need to be approached and discussed. Among the many different effects for the individual researchers, the institutions, the knowledge system and society as a whole, EuroScience has decided to put its focus on Research Integrity (RI) and the role therein of funders.

At ESOF 2016 EuroScience will host a panel discussion to explore RI through three concrete questions which have arisen recently and that may have a direct impact on scientists and their research. The session will be held on Tuesday 26 July 2016 from 11.25 – 12.40 in the EuroScience Room.

What is the role of funders in Research Integrity?

Integrity is intrinsic to research and its responsibility towards other researchers and towards society. Some observations[1] have shown in the recent past that scientific misconduct is more developed than in popular and common beliefs. Propositions to fight it have been made towards researcher’s employers in most cases while funding agencies have often been left aside.

Research Funding Organisations (RFOs) have often not been directly involved in promoting RI as they usually are not directly responsible for the management of researchers. Exceptions exist as RFOs in Europe and beyond are developing policies for researchers and research institutions. There are noticeable exceptions with a number of research funding organisations that have RI policy (e.g. NSF and NIH in the U.S.). Those are often either linked to the use of federal or national funds (which comes with series of specific requirements) or to a formal declaration of abiding by national or institutional rules on integrity (although a number of funding institutions also have specific rules regarding conflict of interest for instance, which is one of the element that can be related to misconducts).

As RFOs play an important role in funding and orienting research they have a direct interest in promoting and enforcing RI. Breaches of RI undermine the quality of science (and therefore scientific excellence), research reproducibility, and can also represent a misuse of funds. And RFOs have a very strong instrument in their hands to foster RI, as an increasing part of research funding is directly provided through their funding programmes. They distribute funds to research institutions, research teams and individual researchers, based on a number of criteria, usually linked to scientific excellence. Therefore research funding institutions could propose a series of RI criteria attached to their funding, which could be adapted to the recipient (institutions, teams or individuals).

What are the consequences of interdisciplinary research on Research Integrity?

RFOs also play a critical role in supporting research, especially when topics are multidisciplinary. And several consequences of interdisciplinarity on RI have emerged.

A first one concerns the responsibilities of researchers working on interdisciplinary projects. Who can be held responsible for the project’s process and results when researchers come from very different scientific disciplines? Not all might be knowledgeable enough to assess the integrity of their co-workers and collaborators. Secondly and similarly for research institutions, how will responsibilities be owned and shared in more complex interdisciplinary science? Finally, the question pertains also to scientific journals as to who holds the final decision to publish interdisciplinary research? Is the responsibility with the reviewer, the editor or the publisher for research projects at the interface of several disciplines and sectors?

The question of who is responsible for RI, for the quality control and assessment of the joint results of a multidisciplinary project is not different from when research is performed by researchers in the same discipline but from different faculties, universities or countries. It is always about the culture as all research, as well as all cooperation of researchers, must build on an intrinsic culture of integrity. How are results interpreted, presented and how are conclusions are drawn. RFOs, research institutions, individual researchers all must take the obvious responsibility of building a culture of RI awareness within the scientific community in their own environment as well as globally.

Can new indicators help assess and promote Research Integrity?

Although enforcement of RI has to go through institutions directly employing researchers, funders can play an important role. RFOs could develop promoting elements that could go beyond a simple demand for respecting existing integrity rules, and rather use indicators, controls and sanctions proportional to potential misconducts. Despite many discussions that have taken place at various levels, no indicators have yet been established to evaluate RI.

If indicators were to be developed for RI, what would they be? Maybe the first question to answer should be what do we want to evaluate? Is it researchers themselves, their institutions, their publications, …? Let’s not forget that the reputation of and funding of those evaluated for RI can be at stake. Also who is to evaluate RI? And once indicators are establish, it will probably be key to insist on the need for transparency with metrics being made publically available.

There are already elements that are in place that can be used to evaluate RI. The adherence to national or international norms and standards could certainly be the subject of indicators. The need for reproducibility of results and methods has for example emerged in the last few years and could be the focus of new indicators. The peer review process could also benefit from more openness. But the main issue remains that for RI, there are no low hanging fruits. Maybe metrics should not aim to evaluate RI but rather to help communicate and inform on RI. RI could then benefit as indicators would help raise awareness rather than generate new unnecessary rankings.

More fundamentally the question is maybe if there is a need at all for RI indicators. Recent research has hinted at the negative role of metrics that put pressure on researchers and their institutions[2]. What really triggers RI breaches, how can they be detected and more importantly prevented? Shouldn’t efforts be put on training and awareness raising rather than repression?

Chair:

Stephane Berghmans, EuroScience

Speakers:

Dan Brändström, Chair, Board of the Linnaeus University, Board of Wenner-Gren Foundation
Sonia Ortega, Head of the NSF Europe-Eurasia Office, US Mission to the European Union
Johannes Klumper, Head of Unit for SAM, DG Research, European Commission
Michele Garfinkel, Science Policy Programme Manager, EMBO
Amanda Crowfoot, Director, Science Europe
Slobodan Radicev, European Young Research Platform, EuroScience

 

[1] Martinson, B. C., Anderson, M. S., & De Vries, R. (2005). Scientists behaving badly. Nature, 435, 737-738

[2] Fanelli D, Costas R and Larivière V (2015). Misconduct Policies, Academic Culture and Career Stage, Not Gender or Pressures to Publish, Affect Scientific Integrity.