Research Integrity - is it common sense?
Sam Oakley, the University of Glasgow’s Researcher Development and Integrity Specialist, will be writing a series of posts to help demystify the issue of research integrity. Keep an eye out for future posts and, if you have any questions feel free to get in contact with her at Sam.Oakley@glasgow.ac.uk.
If a person has integrity we usually mean that they are honest, they have strong principles and high standards that they never compromise. Research integrity, also known as responsible research conduct, is just the same: conducting research to the highest possible standards, honestly and openly. This is not limited to the research process, but how we treat everyone involved in the research ecosystem right through the publication and communication of results. Much of this is common sense: our researchers have excellent skills and aspire to do the right thing, yet occasionally the pressures of the competitive research environment and the personalities involved can lead to areas of compromise or conflict. These grey areas are the ones we focus on in training sessions to help researchers find their way through any difficult situations they may encounter to avoid both stress and inadvertent misconduct.
Once we start to pull the theme of “Research Integrity” apart into manageable chunks for discussion or training, it quickly becomes clear this is a big sprawling mass of topics to tackle! Here at the University of Glasgow our Code of Good Practice in Research has sections on the key areas of research conduct such as conflicts of interest, peer review, image manipulation, data management etc. It provides clear guidance on what is expected.
Take authorship, for example: the decisions about who gets named on a paper as an author and in what order (for disciplines where order is significant). This can be a source of stress for an individual if authorship guidelines for the discipline are not being followed, whether this is legitimate authors being left off or “guest authors” added who contributed very little. Authorship brings credit and responsibility: readers need to know who did the work and the correct people need to get the credit for it. Our Code of Good Practice lays out the general expectations for this and encourages use of the CRediT taxonomy to record contributor roles.
Self-plagiarism, also known as text recycling, can be another grey area. This can occur when a paper is submitted to more than one journal, or sections of one’s own writing are reused. This may be by accident or design: perhaps a conference paper or thesis chapter becomes a journal article; methodology or literature review sections may be similar in different papers etc. Correct process and citation can make all the difference between acceptable re-use and a paper being rejected or retracted.
When we run Research Integrity training sessions, we give researchers and students the opportunity to discuss these kinds of scenarios in a safe space. We highlight the policies, processes and people that are here at the university to help if any situation needs to be addressed or if a researcher needs backup. The best way to avoid research integrity issues is to promote good research practice and to create a culture of discussion and sharing around these issues. Senior researchers and principle investigators should ideally lead on this but students asking questions can often trigger useful wider debate so never be afraid to ask if you are not sure that best practice is being followed. You are very welcome to contact me if you have any questions or want more information about any of the topics covered but every College / School has its own Research Integrity Champions and Advisers who are able to provide local support.
Research integrity training can be booked via MyCampus for PGR students. We also have an online resource on Moodle that you can work through at your own pace and many more resources on the university website.