Australian health and medical research funders support substantial research efforts, and incentives within grant funding schemes influence researcher behaviour. We aimed to determine to what extent Australian health and medical funders incentivise responsible research practices.
We conducted an audit of instructions from research grant and fellowship schemes. Eight national research grants and fellowships were purposively sampled to select schemes that awarded the largest amount of funds. The funding scheme instructions were assessed against 9 criteria to determine to what extent they incentivised these responsible research and reporting practices: (1) publicly register study protocols before starting data collection, (2) register analysis protocols before starting data analysis, (3) make study data openly available, (4) make analysis code openly available, (5) make research materials openly available, (6) discourage use of publication metrics, (7) conduct quality research (e.g. adhere to reporting guidelines), (8) collaborate with a statistician, and (9) adhere to other responsible research practices. Each criterion was answered using one of the following responses: “Instructed”, “Encouraged”, or “No mention”.
This open access paper about Australia, published in August 2020, discusses research that analysed how well Australian heath and medical research funding bodies are guiding the responsible research practice of applicants. The results of the work are extremely disappointing. Funding bodies can and should do more. They are in a position to directly influence the practice of institutions and researchers toward responsible practice and open science. Their failure to do so demeans Australian heath and medical research.
Across the 8 schemes from 5 funders, applicants were instructed or encouraged to address a median of 4 (range 0 to 5) of the 9 criteria. Three criteria received no mention in any scheme (register analysis protocols, make analysis code open, collaborate with a statistician). Importantly, most incentives did not seem strong as applicants were only instructed to register study protocols, discourage use of publication metrics and conduct quality research. Other criteria were encouraged but were not required.
Funders could strengthen the incentives for responsible research practices by requiring grant and fellowship applicants to implement these practices in their proposals. Administering institutions could be required to implement these practices to be eligible for funding. Strongly rewarding researchers for implementing robust research practices could lead to sustained improvements in the quality of health and medical research.
Diong, J., Kroeger, C.M., Reynolds, K.J. et al. Strengthening the incentives for responsible research practices in Australian health and medical research funding. Research Integrity and Peer Review 6(11). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-021-00113-7