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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Assuring research integrity during a pandemic – BMJopinion (Gowri Gopalakrishna, et al | June 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 6, 2020

Compared to the SARS outbreak in 2003, the covid-19 pandemic has led to substantially more scientific publications during the first four months. Preprints have become the medium of choice. The rapidly increasing number of publications combined with the urgency to quickly understand the new pathogen presents a significant challenge for maintaining the integrity of the underlying evidence base, and to ensure that research is conducted according to global standards of research integrity [1,2].

Rapid publication can aggravate questionable research practices

Competition and the pressure to publish quickly can lead researchers to (inadvertently) base studies on questionable methods. This has recently been a major issue in discussions of the models used to plan responses and predict the future course of the pandemic. A recent research paper in The BMJ found that: “proposed models are poorly reported, at high risk of bias, and their reported performance is probably optimistic.” [3] Similar concerns are currently being raised about serological tests coming onto the market rapidly as a way to determine the extent of immunity against covid-19. Manufacturers claim their tests have high sensitivity and specificity, but with little or no published data yet to back this, it is hard to assess the basis of these claims. This lack of transparency on the research behind these tests is worrying as more and more countries turn to testing to guide easing of lockdowns [4].

Rapid publication amplifies weaknesses in peer review

Competition and the pressure to publish quickly has produced a flood of un-peer-reviewed papers published as preprints. Publishing and sharing  preprints encourages scientific collaboration, transparency, and fast sharing of data.  But, in a crisis, it could lead to the spread and use of controversial information that needs further peer evaluation and validation. A recent case is the fierce scientific debate [5] on twitter and blog posts around a Stanford preprint [6] that claimed the case fatality rate of covid-19 was similar to seasonal influenza. Researchers were quick to raise questions about sampling, the validity of the antibody tests used and statistical calculations. Much has been written about social media’s ability to spread (mis)information rapidly. Recent reports analysed preprints’ viral potential on social media and news outlets [7]. Examples include a study showing a link between covid-19 and HIV, which was tweeted at least 17,000 times and reached 25 news outlets despite being criticised widely by scientists and rapidly retracted [1].

  1. Speed Science: The risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research. Reuters. Published 19 Feb 2020
  2. (accessed 13 May 2020)
  3. Wynants L, Van Calster B, Bonten MJ et al. Prediction models for diagnosis and prognosis of covid-19 infection: systematic review and critical appraisal. BMJ, 2020; 369: m1328; https://doi- (accessed 13 May 2020)
  4. (accessed 13 May 2020)
  5. (accessed 13 May 2020)
  6. (accessed 13 May 2020)

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(Italy) There is no I in data: Former grad student has paper retracted after mentor objects – Retraction Watch (Adam Marcus | June 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 5, 2020

Just because you work in a lab doesn’t mean you get to call the data you produce your own. Ask Constantin Heil.

Problems like this can be compounded if your institution’s policy affords HDR candidates shared ownership for data generated as part of their studies.  Does your institution have resources to mitigate this?  We have included two resources from an Australia institution.

In the mid-2010s, Heil was a PhD student at La Sapienza University in Rome, where he conducted studies with his mentor, Giuseppe Giannini. That research led to Heil’s dissertation, a paper titled “One size does not fit all: Cell type specific tailoring of culture conditions permits establishment of divergent stable lines from murine cerebellum.”

Heil — who is now working in Switzerland for a company called SOPHiA Genetics — used some of those data to publish a 2019 article, “Hedgehog pathway permissive conditions allow generation of immortal cell lines from granule cells derived from cancerous and non-cancerous cerebellum,” in a peer-reviewed journal, Open Biology, which belongs to the Royal Society.

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China clamping down on coronavirus research, deleted pages suggest – The Conversation (Stephanie Kirchgaessner, et al | April 2020.)0

Posted by Admin in on July 4, 2020

Move is likely to be part of attempt to control the narrative surrounding the pandemic

China is cracking down on publication of academic research about the origins of the novel coronavirus, in what is likely to be part of a wider attempt to control the narrative surrounding the pandemic, documents published online by Chinese universities appear to show.

Two websites for leading Chinese universities appear to have recently published and then removed pages that reference a new policy requiring academic papers dealing with Covid-19 to undergo extra vetting before they are submitted for publication.

Research on the origins of the virus is particularly sensitive and subject to checks by government officials, the notices posted on the websites of Fudan University and the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) said. Both the deleted pages were accessed from online caches.

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Warning over coronavirus and predatory journals – Nature Index (Dalmeet Singh Chawla | June 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 1, 2020

With hundreds of predatory journals appearing and disappearing on a regular basis, researchers need to be vigilant in their approach to unfamiliar publishers.

While predatory journals can be difficult to define and identify, a common distinguishing characteristic is that their publishers try to exploit the open-access publishing model by charging the fee and then fail to provide editorial services.

Lists of predatory journals have been widely used to keep track of emerging titles. One of the best-known, Beall’s List, was retired in January 2017. (The list remains online.)

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