Report: ‘Deliberate steps’ required to preserve, foster integrity in scientific research

The U.S. scientific research enterprise must improve its practices and policies to protect the integrity of research, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

“This report does not conclude that the research enterprise is broken,” members of the entity’s committee on responsible science wrote in the report. “However, the research enterprise faces serious challenges in creating the appropriate conditions to foster and sustain the highest standards of integrity. To meet these challenges, deliberate steps must be taken to strengthen the self-correcting mechanisms that are an implicit part of research.”

The report, titled “Fostering Integrity in Research,” called on all stakeholders — including researchers, institutions, funders, publishers, scientific societies and federal agencies — to improve their policies and practices to respond to threats to research integrity.

The authors outlined the need for actions that help clarify authorship standards, ensure availability of data necessary to reproduce research, protect whistleblowers, and ensure that both positive and negative research results are reported.

The report also called for the creation of a nonprofit, independent advisory board designed to support efforts to strengthen research integrity, as well as reduce and address research misconduct.

“The research process goes beyond the actions of individual researchers,” committee chair Robert M. Nerem, PhD, MSc, BS, professor emeritus at the Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a press release. “Research institutions, journals, scientific societies and other parts of the research enterprise all can act in ways that either support or undermine integrity in research.”

A report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 1992 described and analyzed a variety of issues related to research integrity.

The definition of scientific misconduct established in that document — “fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing or reporting research” — remains valid, according to authors of the new report. However, the updated version suggests research practices that had previously been characterized as questionable — such as failure to retain research data, or misleading use of statistics — should now be considered “detrimental.”

“The research process goes beyond the actions of individual researchers,” Nerem said. “Research institutions, journals, scientific societies and other parts of the research enterprise all can act in ways that either support or undermine integrity in research.”