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Integrity in research refers to the behaviours and values that result in high quality, ethical and valuable research. This POSTnote considers current approaches to fostering an environment conducive to good research in the UK, and detecting and preventing practices that fall short of expected standards. It also examines the current mechanisms for supporting integrity in the UK, whether these are sufficient, or if another form of oversight, such as regulation, might be preferable.

Poor practice ranges from minor errors to serious misconduct. While fraud does occur, it is thought to be extremely rare. Questionable research practices are a more widespread concern, as they are thought to be more prevalent and have a greater impact on the research record.

There are concerns about how to maintain integrity in research, because of fears that the ‘publish or perish’ culture leads to poor or questionable research practices. While many mechanisms do exist for reducing poor practice, and these are thought to have a positive effect on reducing such behaviour, there remain concerns that the system is disjointed, lacks openness and transparency, and that the incentive structure is such that good practice is not recognised or rewarded. Strategies for tackling this therefore focused on reducing institutional pressures on researchers, through enhancing openness and transparency, improving oversight and training, and re-aligning incentives for researchers so that they are rewarded for engaging in rigorous and accurate research.

The key points in this briefing are:

  • There are concerns about how to maintain integrity in research, because of fears that the ‘publish or perish’ culture leads to poor or questionable research practices.
  • Compromised research integrity can put public health at risk and waste resources, undermine public trust in science and damage reputations.
  • Various mechanisms exist to promote good practice in research, including: institutional guidelines; a sector-wide concordat; regulatory bodies for some disciplines; peer review; and a variety of legal actions.
  • There are differing views over whether these mechanisms are sufficient, or if another form of oversight, such as regulation, might be preferable.

An update to this note was published on 08 Jan 2018.

Acknowledgments

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank the following interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing:

  • Prof Jonathan Montgomery, Nuffield Council on Bioethics
  • Jamie Arrowsmith, Universities UK
  • Chris Graf, the Committee on Publication Ethics
  • Dr Mark Sheehan, Ethox Centre
  • Dr Tony Peatfield, Research Councils UK
  • Dr Frances Rawle, Research Councils UK
  • Dr Rhys Morgan, Research Strategy Office, University of Cambridge
  • Alice Jamieson, Wellcome Trust
  • Niall McDermott, NHS England
  • Prof Chris Witty, Department of Health
  • Mathias Willumsen, Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty
  • Dr Steven Hill, Higher Education Funding Council of England
  • Catherine Joynson, Nuffield Council on Bioethics
  • Dr Ritu Dhand, Nature
  • James Parry, UK Research Integrity Office
  • Prof Nicholas Steneck, University of Michigan
  • Graham Farrant, Social Research Association
  • Dr Ron Iphofen, Social Research Association
  • Lord Krebs, University of Oxford
  • Prof Frances Balkwill, Barts Cancer Institute
  • Dr Frances Downey, The Royal Society
  • Chris Peters, Sense about Science
  • Medical Academic Staff Committee, British Medical Association
  • Committee on Publication Ethics
  • Dr Claire Cope, The Academy of Medical Sciences
  • The Russell Group Research Integrity Forum

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