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Institutions must do more to eliminate research misconduct, meeting hears

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e446 (Published 16 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e446
  1. Aniket Tavare
  1. 1BMJ

The United Kingdom needs stronger mechanisms for ensuring the responsible conduct of research, concluded a meeting of leading members of the country’s scientific establishment.

The meeting on 12 January, convened by the BMJ and the international Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to discuss the UK’s lack of a concerted approach to research misconduct (BMJ 2012;344:d8357, doi:10.1136/bmj.d8357; 2012;344:e377, doi:10.1136/bmj.e377), was attended by senior representatives from academia, government, funding agencies, and journals. All agreed that, on top of the duties of individual researchers, their employing institutions have prime responsibility to ensure that research conducted within their walls is free from misconduct and that whistleblowers are given enough protection.

Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, added that there was little desire for new legislation or for a governmental body to oversee research, as this would only “blur accountability and increase regulation.”

The importance of funders of research was acknowledged, with the suggestion that they should oblige institutions to appoint a senior person as research integrity officer and to ensure adherence to an agreed code of conduct. This would encompass effective detection of research misconduct and thorough investigation of allegations, alongside the reporting of investigations to a national advisory and oversight body such as the UK Research Integrity Office.

Tony Peatfield, representing the Medical Research Council, agreed that there was “little support for an overarching regulatory body” and admitted that research funders “don’t have a good idea of the scale of the problem.”

Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, had previously described the UK’s measures as “sufficient and proportionate” (BMJ 2012;344:d8357, doi:10.1136/bmj.d8357). However, Mike Rawlins, chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, lambasted that view, stating that “the complacency of [these] remarks belies the fact he just doesn’t get it.” He added, “We have a room full of senior people here who’ve had enough.”

Delegates agreed that despite cases of outright scientific fraud creating major headlines, the more pervasive “low level” activities, such as suppression or adjustment of data, actually had a greater effect on science and on patients. Their consensus was that research misconduct should be defined as “behaviour by a researcher, intentional or not, that falls short of good ethical and scientific standards.”

Universities UK, the umbrella body that represents 132 UK higher education institutions, is developing, in conjunction with Research Councils UK, a voluntary concordat on research integrity, which is nearing completion. All institutions will be encouraged to sign this aspirational framework, but some delegates at the meeting were concerned that consultations had not been wide enough, especially as much research is publicly funded.

Fiona Godlee, the BMJ’s editor in chief, said, “The meeting succeeded in its aim of getting all the key players into one room and agreeing what needs to happen. It’s especially important to have got a vote of confidence in UKRIO [the UK Research Integrity Office], which now needs proper long term funding from institutions.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e446

Footnotes