Managing research misconduct: is anyone getting it right?BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d8212 (Published 29 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8212
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When standards are not adhered to, we depend on personal ethics and morals to improve research misconduct. If there had been no internal dissent and the study had been accepted at face value without further scrutiny, this supposedly effective treatment could have been recommended to patients who had already failed conventional treatment, or be investigated further in a large definitive clinical trial. In both instances, patients would have been exposed to a speculative if not detrimental treatment. The issue should be deemed to go beyond research misconduct to the material risk of harming patients. This occurs by giving false hope, receiving non-beneficial treatment and forgoing therapies that do work, and incurring unnecessary side-effects.
The studious re-appraisal of primary data by journal readers could detect exaggerated findings, errors and methodological flaws in seminal published studies that escaped the scrutiny of peer reviewers. Journals could adopt policies that mandate reader concerns be satisfactorily addressed by study authors and journal editors, with ongoing disagreements resolved by independent arbitration. Well-founded reader concern or suspicion, author responses, and the provenance of intercollegiate dialogue should automatically be published as letters of correspondence to the journal and appended to the original study. Decisions to publish such controversial discussions should not remain solely at the journal editor’s discretion. Rapid Responses at BMJ.com sets up an unbiased dialogue.
On a positive note, the rarity of the conclusion-altering errors encountered by discerning readers suggests that peer review of manuscripts submitted to high impact journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature Medicine remains rigorous and reliably of a high standard, though not infallible. Peer review remains arguably robust if these errors only became evident after up to 2000 hours of expert appraisal and attempts to replicate the study findings.
Competing interests: No competing interests
The growing international trend to improve research integrity is welcomed in the wake of much publicised cases of research misconduct (BMJ 2011; 343:d8212).
In Australia, a solid framework exists for good research conduct and for dealing with allegations of research misconduct. The NHMRC and the Australian Research Council (ARC) are the Government’s primary agencies for funding publicly supported research. Alongside Universities Australia, the two agencies have developed and promote the Australian Code of Responsible Conduct of Research which guides research institutions and researchers in responsible research practices, and provides a framework for resolving allegations of research misconduct.
It is a condition of funding that institutions ensure that research is conducted in accordance with the Code and that they have procedures in place that are consistent with the Code for managing allegations of research misconduct.
In 2011, the Australian Government, through NHMRC and ARC, established the Australian Research Integrity Committee to provide an independent review system of institutional processes to respond to allegations of research misconduct. This system is intended to ensure that institutions investigate all allegations of research misconduct and observe proper process in investigating all allegations of research misconduct.
Competing interests: No competing interests
We welcome BMJ’s continuing focus on research misconduct but, regrettably, this article contains serious errors concerning the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO).
UKRIO is not “hosted by the University of Sussex”. Since December 2010 we have leased premises at the Sussex Innovation Centre based on the University’s campus. However, UKRIO has remained an independent organisation, as stated at the time of our relocation . While the University is one of many institutions which has chosen to support UKRIO since our move to a wider pool of funders in 2011, we have no other affiliation with it. It is regrettable that your article stated, incorrectly, to the contrary.
We are baffled by the claim that UKRIO “exists in a vestigial form”. Neither our relocation or transition to a limited company caused any break in the continuity of UKRIO’s services, again as explained at the time .
Had we been contacted prior to publication, we could have explained that we continue to provide independent and confidential support on issues of research integrity, responding to more than 60 cases in the past year. I am puzzled that we were not. We could also have explained how we have received an incredibly positive response to our new model of funding and clarified the issue of our relationship with the University of Sussex.
It is perhaps not surprising that a confidential service should not generate huge amounts of publicity but this has not prevented use of our services. It is clear that researchers, the public and those personnel who deal with research integrity on behalf of organisations value our guidance, as shown by the continuing rise in the use of our services. We would not be approached for assistance if we were not needed.
Inaccurate statements about our operations or affiliations have the potential to cause confusion and distress to the whistle blowers and others who use UKRIO’s services. We therefore ask that you publish this letter and correct the original article.
Competing interests: I am Chief Executive of the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO). The University of Sussex is one of the many organisations which has chosen to support UKRIO since our move to a wider pool of funders in 2010. I have delivered training on research integrity at the University of Sussex.