All researchers should strive to improve the quality, relevance and reliability of their work.
Start a conversation about research integrity and many researchers will assume you’re talking about misconduct. Too often, they are wrong.
Research misconduct encompasses fraud, fabrication and plagiarism. It is essential to deal with such dishonesty thoroughly and fairly, but it’s patching up a tear after the damage is done. Research integrity includes such investigations, but it is much more. It is about creating systems that boost the quality, relevance and reliability of all research.
The distinction is clear at the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity, being held this week in Hong Kong. Yes, there are sessions on misconduct — but there are many more on improving science overall. The biggest impact on research integrity is achieved through sustained improvements in day-to-day research practices — better record-keeping, vetting experimental designs, techniques to reduce bias, rewards for rigorous work, and incentives for sharing data, code and protocols — rather than narrow efforts to find and punish a few bad actors. (Both are important, of course, and sometimes the same policies can address both problems.)