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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Unpublished trials are a cancer at the core of evidence based medicine – Aftenposten (Ben Goldacre: October 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on December 28, 2016

Medicine has a dirty secret, and we need your help.

Like most doctors, I always assumed that textbooks and academic journals were full of simple facts. But as I became an academic researcher, I found a vast problem looming in the background.

We do clinical trials to find out whether a treatment is effective. But the evidence shows that around half of those trials go unpublished:

Results are routinely withheld from doctors, and researchers, and patients, at the whim of the commercial sponsor, or the individual researcher.

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The grey zone: How questionable research practices are blurring the boundary between science and misconduct – Times Higher Education (Nick Butler: October 2016 )0

Posted by Admin in on December 26, 2016

Infamous cases of misconduct such as that of Paolo Macchiarini are just the extremes on a long spectrum of dubious research practices, say Nick Butler, Helen Delaney and Sverre Spoelstra

Earlier this year, Paolo Macchiarini – former star surgeon and professor at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute – was dismissed from his post following a high-profile investigation prompted by a documentary broadcast on Swedish national television. Macchiarini was found guilty of failing to secure ethical approval for experimental transplant techniques and misrepresenting data in journal publications. The scandal continues to resonate throughout the scientific community and has so far led to the resignation of the vice-chancellor of Sweden’s most prestigious medical university and the secretary general of the Nobel Prize committee, among others.

Such egregious breaches of scientific protocol are serious, but mercifully rare. Far more prevalent – and therefore even more damaging – are research practices that fall into an ethical “grey zone” between overt misconduct and scholarly best practice. Academic misconduct refers to forms of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism (FFP) – in other words, the terrain of fraudsters, con artists and cheats. Questionable research practices (QRPs), however, are more difficult to pin down but typically involve misrepresentation, inaccuracy or bias. Recent research suggests that academics are becoming more adept at employing QRPs that skirt around the edges of misconduct, like athletes who optimise their performance with artificial enhancements without technically breaking the rules. To put it into perspective, one study found that only 2 per cent of scientists admit to FFP, while almost a third admit to engaging in QRPs.

One prominent example of a QRP is “HARKing”, standing for “hypothesising after the results are known”. Normally, researchers follow the standard scientific practice of developing a hypothesis and then testing it against the facts. But HARKing involves constructing or changing a hypothesis after the data have been collected and analysed. If this is concealed from journal editors, the integrity of the scientific process is compromised. Yet, strictly speaking, HARKing

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Critical evaluation of the guidelines of the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity and of their application (Papers: Liisa Räsänen and Erja Moore | 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on December 25, 2016


We have national guidelines for the responsible conduct of research (RCR) and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland. The guidelines have been formulated and updated by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (TENK). In this article, we introduce and evaluate the national RCR guidelines. We also present statistics of alleged and proven RCR violation cases and frequency of appeals to TENK on the decisions or procedures of the primary institutions. In addition, we analyze the available data on seven investigated cases in more detail. Positive aspects in the Finnish system are a fairly good infrastructure to investigate suspected RCR violations and a wide concept of RCR violations, which consists of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, misappropriation, and other misbehaviors. However, the guidelines contain poorly elaborated definitions, do not treat the complainant and the suspect in an equal way, and need to be revised. Confusion about the concepts and criteria of the RCR violations seems to be common in primary institutions and among the complainants. Even if research institutions and universities have officially adhered to the national RCR guidelines, slipping from the guidelines occurs quite commonly. All these factors lead to frequent dissatisfaction with the decisions or procedures applied, high rate of appeals to TENK, and far from optimal functionality of the system.


Research misconduct Guidelines on research integrity Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity TENK

Räsänen L and Moore E (2016) Critical evaluation of the guidelines of the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity and of their application. Research Integrity and Peer Review 1(15) DOI: 10.1186/s41073-016-0020-9
Publisher (open access): also available as a pdf

Why is so much research dodgy? Blame the Research Excellence Framework – The Guardian (Alex Jones and Andrew Kemp: October 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on December 24, 2016

The study of psychology is facing a crisis. A lot of research doesn’t show the same results when the experiment is repeated, and it is critical we address this problem. But the Research Excellence Framework has led to a research culture which is suffocating attempts to stabilise psychology in particular, and science in general.

The Ref encourages universities to push for groundbreaking, novel, and exciting research in the form of 4* papers, but it does not reward the efforts of those who replicate studies. As universities gear up for the next Ref submission in 2021, many researchers will not even consider attempts to replicate results.

False information
The point of replicating a study is to test whether a statistically significant result will appear again if the experiment is repeated. Of course, a similar result may not appear – casting into question the validity of the results from the first experiment.

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