The importance and practice of research integrity
Integrity has an essential role in scientific research and scholarship. It does not only guard researchers’ career and reputation, but sustains the public’s trust in scholarly research and contributes to economic and social progress as well, among others (Science Europe, 2015). As such, it benefits a broad range of parties, including the researchers themselves, patients, funding agencies, national governments, and the public at large. In this blog post, we provide an overview of research integrity by first discussing its meaning, then, introducing the most crucial document on it, and finally, elaborating on good and bad practices.
Definition of research integrity
According to Metcalfe et al. (2020), research integrity entails professional standards to be adopted by researchers and promoted by research organizations. In addition, as the authors elucidate, it stands for “undertaking and conducting research in a way that ensures it is trustworthy and ethical” (p. 11). As such, research integrity involves practices that result in high quality, true, and replicable findings, and thus, the refrainment from actions that have the opposite effect.
The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity
One of the most important documents on research integrity is The European code of conduct for research integrity (ALLEA, 2017), a joint declaration by more than 50 academies from about 40 European countries. Its significance for the academic community lies in the fact that it outlines good research practices and what count as violations of research integrity. It also presents the four key principles of research integrity that should guide research. These are:
- reliability, which concerns the design of the research as well as the applied research methods;
- honesty, which is essential in the development and undertaking of a project as well as when reviewing and reporting research results;
- respect, which should be practiced in favor of all the direct and indirect parties of research; and
- accountability, which should be taken for the research throughout all its stages.
Research practices to try
So, how can the above-mentioned principles be translated into research practices? ALLEA (2017) and the Standard Operating Procedures for Research Integrity project provide plenty of useful guidelines for different contexts. Let us give a brief summary of them below:
- Research environment: Research institutions should aid data management and data protection practices and recognize researchers for good practices.
- Training, supervision, and mentoring: Research institutions should provide researchers with trainings in research design and research methods, develop trainings focused on ethics and research integrity, and ensure that researchers from all career stages receive them. In addition, senior researchers should promote good practices by mentoring their colleagues.
- Research procedures: Researchers should carry out all stages of a research project with rigor, honesty, and transparency.
- Safeguards: Researchers should adhere to their discipline-specific regulations when handling their research subjects and minimize any possible harms and risks associated with their research.
- Data practices and management: Researchers and research institutions should preserve their data securely; where applicable, provide open access to them, and adhere to the FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) principles when it comes to data management.
- Collaboration: All parties of research collaborations should be responsible for and agree to accomplishing the highest level of research integrity in their work by following professional standards.
- Publication and dissemination: Authors should take responsibility for their research output and communicate their work to the public with honesty. Where applicable, they should also be in full agreement on the authorship order, acknowledge others’ contribution to their work, and reveal potential conflicts of interest.
- Reviewing, evaluating, and editing: These practices should be pursued with transparency and with confidentiality, where applicable. Also, in cases of publication-, funding-, promotion-, appointment-, or reward-related decisions, researchers should refrain from these activities if there is a conflict of interest.
Violations of research integrity
Violations of research integrity cause damage on many levels. Besides the misuse of resources, concomitant effects include the undermining of the research processes, collegial relationships, and people’s trust in research, as well as the harm caused to the direct or indirect parties involved (e.g., research subjects, society, and the environment) (ALLEA, 2017). Still, unfortunately, research misconduct is quite common among scientists, as a recent large-scale survey suggests. Bonn and Pinxten’s (2021) study reveals that possible causes behind this finding can be the unrealistic expectations toward researchers, cut-throat research cultures, limited resources and mentoring, and lack of time for research.
There are several forms of misconduct related to the research process itself. These include:
- data fabrication,
- data falsification,
- image manipulation,
- undisclosed conflicts of interest, and
- the misinterpretation of results.
In addition, some violations of research integrity concern the publication process. To give a few examples:
- authorship manipulations,
- self-plagiarism or text recycling,
- excessive self-citations,
- unjustified citations (citation farming),
- the withholding of research results,
- the exaggeration of the importance of one’s research, and
- predatory publishing.
Dealing with misconduct
Potential violations of research integrity must be taken seriously. This means that the international standards should be followed and integrity and fairness be exercised to the utmost when investigating research misconduct. Whistleblowers may contact the editor or publisher directly or indirectly (e.g., via social media). According to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), it is best to agree on a crisis policy and nominate a research integrity officer in advance, who will be in charge of handling the allegations of research misconduct. In general, they also recommend being polite (even when faced with aggressive or personal messages), respecting the anonymity of the whistleblower, making use of the relevant guide issued by the COPE, and, in the case of social media, steering the exchange away from the public eye.
Investigations of research misconduct might lead to the retraction or correction of the publication in question. Based on the COPE’s guidelines, the earlier practice should involve an article with serious flaws and errors, while the latter only minor ones. Either way, these procedures should be carried out promptly so as to minimize the effect of harm on the research community and the public.
Research integrity at AKJournals
AKJournals is committed to ethical scientific publication. As such, research integrity is taken most seriously. For instance, our journal editorial boards use the software, iThenticate to detect possible cases of plagiarism in the manuscripts that are submitted to them. For more information on our relating practices, we recommend checking our Ethical Guide. In addition, readers interested in the topic might also benefit from listening to our recent podcast featuring a roundtable discussion with two of our Editors-in-Chief about the role of research integrity in peer review.
ALLEA (All European Academies). (2017). The European code of conduct for research integrity. ALLEA.
Bonn, N. A., & Pinxten, W. (2021). Rethinking success, integrity, and culture in research (part 2) – A multi-actor qualitative study on problems of science. Research Integrity and Peer Review, 6(3), https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-020-00105-z
Metcalfe, J., Wheat, K., Munafò, M., & Parry, J. (2020). Research integrity: A landscape study. Vitae. https://www.vitae.ac.uk/vitae-publications/reports/research-integrity-a-landscape-study
Science Europe. (2015, June 17). Seven reasons to care about integrity in research. Science Europe. https://www.scienceeurope.org/media/42sphgqt/20150617_seven-reasons_web2_final.pdf