Scientific integrity necessitates applying scientific methods properly, collecting and analyzing data appropriately, protecting human subjects rightly, performing studies rigorously, and communicating findings transparently. But who is responsible for upholding research integrity, mitigating misinformation, and increasing trust in science beyond individual researchers? We posit that supporting the scientific reputation requires a coordinated approach across all stakeholders: funding agencies, publishers, scholarly societies, research institutions, and journalists and media, and policy-makers.
In our experience, the best way to inform resourcing reflective practice in research and to guide away from questionable research practices is to focus upon research culture. This includes regarding the challenges through the prism of culture change. This terrific open access paper, published in August 2023 takes a look at these issues in the context of maintaining public, political and media trust in research. With the major challenges facing us, we need that trust.
The spread of misinformation is also directly related to public trust in research and science. A February 2022 Pew study on American confidence in groups and organizations found only 29% of U.S. adults say they have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interest of the public, while 78% have at least a fair amount of trust of that same group to act in the best interest of the public (Kennedy et al., 2022).
The reasons and motivations for lapses in research integrity and scientific malpractice are varied and complex. Integrity—as with most things—is a spectrum, with excellent research practice on one end and research misconduct (such as falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism) on the other. In the middle lies what may be a gray area of questionable research practices. When this spectrum is layered with stakeholders, such as journalists, funding agencies, and others, it becomes a matrix of motivations and outcomes. For example, a publisher may have the best intention to support scientific practices and increase research transparency, however, they may not have filters in place to prevent all nefarious acts, such as a confirmation bias that may surface through peer review or cursory quality checks on pre-prints. Moreover, a publisher or editor may feel a sense of duty to publish less mainstream science in order to push research forward (e.g., to some, acupuncture was fringe and could not be easily published for years). Perverse incentives that motivate questionable behavior in academia have been well-documented among researchers and academic institutions (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017).
McIntosh, L.D., Hudson, C.H. (2023) Coordinating culture change across the research landscape. Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics. 8 DOI: 10.3389/frma.2023.1134082
Publisher (Open Access): https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frma.2023.1134082