Research Integrity is a subject that not only concerns journals and editors, but experts from many fields and disciplines, across Europe and worldwide.
The Printeger Conference on Research Integrity in Bonn in early February 2018 provided a platform for understanding and discussion of the many facets and aspects that play a role when trying to deal with integrity related issues. (https://printeger.eu/conference2018/) Researchers, commission members, entrepreneurs and experts from a wide variety of fields gathered at Bonn University and discussed integrity as a cultural and social phenomenon and as a threat to scholarly knowledge production. Moreover significant steps were made to develop an updated version of the ALLEA code of conduct 2011.
In many of the conference sessions it was debated how training, workflows, standards and policies could be transformed and used to keep science clean from error or misbehavior: Rachel Douglas-Jones for example explained in her lecture how it was important to translate a national code of conduct into universities in Denmark. In her eyes it were foremost PhD students that in the future will function as agents of reform. Her research group analyzed how doctoral students eventually change their concepts of integrity over time and how the practical demands of scholarly careers may have an effect on research practices.
Hugh Desmond from KU Leuven gave a talk in which he elaborated on how to actually distinguish between research misconduct and incompetent research – a line that is not always easy to draw. He pointed out that existing codes of conduct are still not consistent when it comes to defining these boundaries and that there are no clear and unequivocal criteria for when misconduct must be considered a criminal act. He claimed that it requires a clear terminology for incompetence in research and that it is necessary to either follow through on strengthening criminal statutes or to reconceive how to define misconduct.
Jennifer Gewinner from ETH Zürich presented the results of a study in which she showed how retraction notices in major journals rather conceal fraud and indicate error instead rather than presenting the real nature and dimension of misconduct. In her eyes it is desirable to establish clear standards for how retraction notices should be designed and of the information that need to be presented to the wider academic public.
Nicholas Fox from Rutgers University analyzed questionable research behaviors amongst tenure track professors in the fields of psychology. His creative approach used social networks as a source for estimating the size of the population, which engaged in questionable practices. He found that 18 percent of the analyzed population admitted to have engaged in such practices over the last 12 month, which is – given the fact that this number might only represent the tip of the iceberg – must be considered quite alarming.
Mario Malicki from the University of Amsterdam looked at information policies and instructions to authors in a wide variety of journals. Less than a third of all journals, he reported, actually mentions research integrity explicitly and 92 journals have no instructions for authors at all.
These are only a few spotlights and insights from this inspiring conference (for more information see: https://printeger.eu/agenda/), and it is worth mentioning that much more attention is required to better understand the phenomenon of research integrity and its consequences for the scholarly community at large. It often has been claimed that scholarly work bases on mutual trust, but as long as the research community is not fully aware of the many aspects that may lead to mistakes or how sloppiness can lead to poor results which in the end harm the health and lives of people there need to be many more event like the Printeger Conference 2018.
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