Why does Research Integrity Matter?
The scientific research enterprise is built on a deep foundation of trust. “This trust will endure only if the scientific community devotes itself to exemplifying and transmitting the values associated with ethical scientific conduct.”
– The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, The National Academies, (Committee on Science et al., 2009)
Research integrity not only affects researchers, but also the members of the public, including you.
Here are some reasons:
- Researchers rely on trustworthy results of other researchers to make scientific progress
- Researchers also rely on public support, whether through public investments or their voluntary participation in experiments, to further science
- The public relies on scientific progress to better the lives of everyone
- The public could actually be harmed by researchers who are dishonest and act without regards to integrity
Motivation to commit scientific misconduct
According to David Goodstein of Caltech, there are motivators for scientists to commit misconduct, which are briefly summarized here.
– Goodstein, David (January–February 2002). “Scientific misconduct”. Academe. AAUP.
Science is still a very strong career-driven discipline. Researchers depend on a good reputation to receive ongoing support and funding, and a positive reputation relies largely on the publication of high-profile scientific papers. Therefore, there is a strong imperative to “publish or perish.” Clearly, this may motivate desperate or fame-hungry researchers to fabricate their results.
Development on image editing software
With the development of image editing software (e.g., Photoshop), around 3.8% of published papers contained problematic figures, and this rate has not declined even after the publishers have devised strict policies on properly handling images used in research.
– Bik, E. M., Casadevall, A., & Fang, F. C. (2016). The prevalence of inappropriate image duplication in biomedical research publications. MBio, 7(3), e00809-16.
Forms of scientific misconduct
Fabrication is when one records or reports a result that has been made up. It is sometimes referred to as “dry labbing.” A more minor form of fabrication is where references are included to give arguments the appearance of widespread acceptance, but are actually fake, and/or do not support the argument.
– Shapiro, M.F. (1992). “Data audit by a regulatory agency: Its effect and implication for others”
Falsification is when one manipulates research materials, equipment, or processes, or changes or omits the data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
Plagiarism occurs when another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words are used without acknowledging or giving credit. One form is the appropriation of ideas and results of others, and publishing as to make it appear the author had performed all the work under which the data was obtained. This is the most common type of scientific misconduct. Sometimes it is difficult to guess whether authors intentionally ignored a highly relevant cite, or lacked knowledge of the prior work.
– Eugene Garfield (January 21, 2002). “Demand Citation Vigilance”. The Scientist 16(2):6. Retrieved 2009-07-30.
Effects of scientific misconduct
Damage to the brand, credibility and reputation of the institution
Even if just one member engages in misconduct, everyone in the institution will be affected. In one of the most recent cases in Canada, one of the students composed misconduct in dozens of papers. Although the supervisors were not directly involved in this scandal, the court deemed that they did not thoroughly check the students’ work based on the policies of research integrity as they were supposed to. After 5 years of fighting, the institution was ordered to close down their laboratory.
Wasted efforts and funding
The brand and credibility of an institution will be seriously affected from misconduct. Research is an industry based on trust and fact. There is no need to proceed with the study if misconduct is found, since other researchers will have lost trust on the results generated from the specific institution. However, this also means that all the effort and funding paid previously have gone to waste. A similar case has been reported in Japan, where the project was forced to end due to the revelation of a scientific scandal in one of the laboratories.
All of the above strongly suggest that trust is crucial in scientific research. The aftermath of research misconduct lasts forever, and once trust from a specific individual, institution or brand is lost due to misconduct, all the funds and efforts poured into the research will have gone to waste.
Affects other members’ career
Biological research is an industry involves lots of people. Members are affecting each other and this kind of affection last for a long period. The very recent case in Korea suits this kind of situation. One of the co-author was nominated to be the chairman of the science department. But she had been asked to step down by scientists in Korea since she was one of the co-author in previous scandal 10 years ago.