National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017 Fostering integrity in research

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National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017) Fostering integrity in research. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

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National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2017) National Academies Press

Abstract: The integrity of knowledge that emerges from research is based on individual and collective adherence to core values of objectivity, honesty, openness, fairness, accountability, and stewardship. Integrity in science means that the organizations in which research is conducted encourage those involved to exemplify these values in every step of the research process. Understanding the dynamics that support – or distort – practices that uphold the integrity of research by all participants ensures that the research enterprise advances knowledge.

The scientific research enterprise is a cornerstone of modern society. In the United States alone, the public and private sectors invest hundreds of billions of dollars and countless hours of highly skilled labor into the generation, validation, and dissemination of new knowledge every year. This investment delivers enormous benefits to society in the form of better health, enhanced understanding of the natural world, and new technologies that boost economic growth and improve life in myriad ways.

The integrity of knowledge that emerges from research is based on individual and collective adherence to core values of objectivity, honesty, openness, fairness, accountability, and stewardship.

β€’ Bioblast editor: Gnaiger E

Selected quotes


  • 1. To better align the realities of research with its values and ideals, all stakeholders in the research enterprise β€” researchers, research institutions, research sponsors, journals, and societies β€” should significantly improve and update their practices and policies to respond to the threats to research integrity identified in this report.
  • 3. Research institutions and federal agencies should work to ensure that good-faith whistleblowers are protected and that their concerns are assessed and addressed in a fair, thorough, and timely manner.
  • 4. Societies and journals should develop clear disciplinary authorship standards. Standards should be based on the principle that those who have made a significant intellectual contribution are authors. Significant intellectual contributions can be made in the design or conceptualization of a study, the conduct of research, the analysis or interpretation of data, or the drafting or revising of a manuscript for intellectual content. Those who engage in these activities should be designated as authors of the reported work, and all authors should approve the final manuscript. In addition to specifying all authors, standards should (1) provide for the identification of one or more authors who assume responsibility for the entire work, (2) require disclosure of all author roles and contributions, and (3) specify that gift or honorary authorship, coercive authorship, ghost authorship, and omitting authors who have met the articulated standards are always unacceptable.
  • 6. Through their policies and through the development of supporting infrastructure, research sponsors and science, engineering, technology, and medical journal and book publishers should ensure that information sufficient for a person knowledgeable about the field and its techniques to reproduce reported results is made available at the time of publication or as soon as possible after publication.
  • 7. Federal funding agencies and other research sponsors should allocate sufficient funds to enable the long-term storage, archiving, and access of datasets and code necessary for the replication of published findings.
  • 8. To avoid unproductive duplication of research and to permit effective judgments on the statistical significance of findings, researchers should routinely disclose all statistical tests carried out, including negative findings. Research sponsors, research institutions, and journals should support and encourage this level of transparency.
  • 11. Researchers, research institutions, and research sponsors that participate in and support international collaborations should leverage these partnerships to foster research integrity through mutual learning and sharing of best practices, including collaborative international research on research integrity.

A changing environment

  • Increasing pressure on both junior and senior researchers to publish in prominent journals has created a bias to produce the kinds of novel, newsworthy, and paradigm-shifting results favored by these journals. Similarly, the difficulty in securing government grants and contracts along with explicit federal requirements to do so have increased the pressure on researchers to emphasize the significance and relevance of proposed research. The importance of publications in establishing the reputation of researchers and as the basis for hiring and promotion decisions has increased the potential for disputes over authorship and distorts the publication processβ€”for example, by heightening the temptation to publish multiple papers on just one experiment or dataset.
  • New forms of scientific publication pose challenges to traditional peer review systems.1 Examples include non-peer-reviewed web publications that are widely available, β€œpublication” on personal web pages, and rapid publication with continuously updated reviews. The emergence of research based on computer analyses of massive datasets raises questions about access to both the data and the computer code used to analyze the data and about the allocation of credit to those who collect, curate, and disseminate data and to those who create software and programs that perform scientific analysis on the datasets. Computational science also raises questions regarding appropriate stewardship and persistence of datasets and code.
  • Objectivity
  • Human judgment and decisions are prone to a variety of cognitive biases and systematic errors in reasoning. Even the best scientific intentions are not always sufficient to ensure scientific objectivity. Scientific objectivity can be compromised accidentally or without recognition by individuals. .. A primary purpose of scientific replication is to minimize the extent to which experimental findings are distorted by biases and errors.
  • Objectivity can be compromised when institutional expectations, laboratory culture, the regulatory environment, or funding needs put pressure on the scientist to produce positive results or to produce them under time pressure. Scientists and researchers operate in social contexts, and the incentives and pressures of those contexts can have a profound effect on the exercise of scientific methodology and a researcher’s commitment to scientific objectivity.
  • Honesty
  • Being honest is not always straightforward. It may not be easy to decide what to do with outlier data .. A single outlier data point may be legitimately interpreted as a malfunctioning instrument or a contaminated sample. However, true scientific integrity requires the disclosure of the exclusion of a data point and the effect of that exclusion unless the contamination or malfunction is documented, not merely conjectured. There are accepted statistical methods and standards for dealing with outlier data ..
  • Honest work includes accurate reporting of what was done, including the methods used to do that work.
  • The β€œfile drawer” effect was first discussed almost 40 years ago; Robert Rosenthal (1979) presented the extreme view that β€œjournals are filled with the 5 percent of the studies that show Type I errors, while the file drawers are filled with the 95 percent of the studies that show nonsignificant results.”
  • Openness
  • Openness is not the same as honesty, but it is predicated on honesty. In the scientific enterprise, openness refers to the value of being transparent and presenting all the information relevant to a decision or conclusion. This is essential so that others in the web of the research enterprise can understand why a decision or conclusion was reached. Openness also means making the data on which a result is based available to others so that they may reproduce and verify results or build on them.
  • Accountability
  • At its core, accountability implies an obligation to explain and/or justify one’s behavior. Accountability requires that individuals be willing and able to demonstrate the validity of their work or the reasons for their actions. .. Mutual accountability therefore builds trust ..
  • .. research supervisors are also accountable for being attentive to the educational and career development needs of students, postdoctoral fellows, and other junior researchers whom they oversee.
  • Fairness
  • Fairness is a particularly important consideration in the list of authors for a publication and in the citations included in reports of research results. Investigators may be tempted to claim that senior or well-known authors played a larger role than they actually did so that their names may help carry the paper to publication and readership.
  • Upholding fairness also requires researchers to acknowledge those whose work contributed to their advances. This is usually done through citing relevant work in reporting results.
  • Stewardship
  • One area where individual researchers exercise stewardship is by performing service for their institution, discipline, or the broader research enterprise that may not necessarily be recognized or rewarded. .. Senior researchers may also serve as mentors to younger researchers whom they are not directly supervising or formally responsible for.

Complexity of collaboration

  • Collaborative science requires that researchers focus at least some attention on coordination and interaction, which in theory might detract from the time and effort devoted to research.

Framing best practices for research integrity

  • Researchers
  1. Research Integrity. Uphold research integrity with vigilance, professionalism, and collegiality.
  2. Data Handling. Manage research data effectively, responsibly, and transparently throughout the research process. This includes providing free and open access to research data, models, and code underlying reported results to the extent possible ..
  3. Authorship and Communication. Follow general and disciplinary authorship standards when communicating through formal publications. Describe the roles and contributions of all authors.
  4. Mentoring and Supervision. Know your responsibilities as a mentor and supervisor. Be a helpful, effective mentor and supervisor to early-career researchers.
  5. Peer Review. Strive to be a fair and effective peer reviewer who provides careful reviews, maintains confidentiality, and recognizes and discloses conflicts of interest.
  6. Research Compliance. Understand and comply with relevant institutional and governmental regulations governing research, including those specific to a given discipline or field.
  • Institutions
  1. Management. Integrate research integrity considerations into overall approaches to research, education, and institutional management.
  2. Assessment. Perform regular assessments of the climate for research integrity at the institutional and department levels and address weaknesses that are identified.
  3. Performing Research Misconduct Investigations. Perform regular inventories of institutional policies, procedures, and capabilities for investigating and addressing research misconduct and address weaknesses that are identified.
  4. Training and Education. Strive for continuous improvement in RCR* training and education.

Footnote: RCR = responsible conduct of research


Ambiguity crisis, Gentle Science 

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