Liz Wager: Researchers behaving badly

Liz WagerAt an international research integrity meeting in Lisbon last year, I was horrified when a US scientist told me that UK universities didn’t reply to her concerns about alleged research misconduct. We cannot be proud of the fact that the UK scientific establishment took so long to set up a body to investigate research misconduct. And, even more embarrasing is the fact that, now we have the UK Research Integrity Office (RIO), it is hasn’t even got permanent funding.

I’ve been to a meeting at Keele University this week to discuss the future of RIO and try to get British universities and medical schools to face their responsibilities.

I’m not saying that science is riddled with fraudsters. I actually believe out-and-out fraud is very rare. But its effects can be serious and academic institutions need to work together to play their part in stamping it out. I also think that focusing on the smaller stuff such as correct authorship attribution can help prevent the major problems.

But it needs a concerted effort from educators (starting at school when students need to be taught that copying and pasting from Wikipedia does not constitute research and creative writing), journal editors (who need to provide clear guidance to contributors) and senior academics (who may be part of the problem if they insist on putting their name on every paper from their department). Appropriate research conduct and publication ethics should be on the syllabus and engrained in the values of every academic institution. It’s everybody’s responsibility. Do you have any comments? Have your say on the blog.

Update from Keele, 17 April: Just back from the Governance of Good Research Conduct in Keele. Everybody seems to agree that we need higher standards and better systems but academics are so terrified by the prospect of ‘more bureaucracy’ that they resist the idea of national standards. I was interested to meet people from a much wider range of disciplines than most of the meetings I attend. To be honest, I hadn’t previously given much thought to what good research conduct in the performing arts might entail. It was also sobering to hear one delegate say we shouldn’t use the word ‘training’ because it ‘reeked of bureaucracy and boredom’ …. that’s certainly food for thought for people like me who run training courses. Maybe I’ll have to start selling them under an exotic euphemism. But as my courses are about communication and plain English, that would be ironic. Anybody for some knowledge enhancing, performance improvement exercises? Suggestions, please!

About Liz Wager

Liz Wager is a freelance writer, trainer and publications consultant who works
for a number of pharmaceutical companies, communication agencies, publishers and
academic institutions. She is also the Secretary of COPE (the Committee On
Publication Ethics) and a member of the BMJ’s Ethics Committee.