Re: A consensus statement on research misconduct in the UK
Dear Madam or Sir,
Upholding research integrity is an ethical imperative. Without that integrity and the imperative for which it stands, the quality and value of research are in jeopardy – as are the health and safety of those who place themselves in the hands of researchers. (1,2) Thus the need and value of the BMJ / Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) consensus statement on research misconduct in the UK(3) cannot be over-emphasised. Hopefully, this action will be replicated around the world.
Researchers, institutions, funders, journal editors and publishers all are responsible for research conduct. Nurturing research integrity thus requires zero tolerance toward unethical practice(4) at every stage from the grants office and laboratory, through faculty development and administration, to journals and editors and publishers. Researchers must know that everyone from the institution to the publisher does not only talk the talk, they walk the walk - and so take seriously ethics in research.
We agree with the BMJ/COPE statement that primary responsibility for good research conduct with individual researchers. We also concur that “institutions have direct responsibility as employers to ensure good research conduct, and funders have a duty to hold institutions to account.” Institutions thus must have a code of conduct. Funders must ensure that institutions have effective regulatory mechanisms to ensure good research conduct—e.g., written procedures to handle any allegation of research misconduct.
Yet, research integrity also requires publication ethics. Journal editors and publishers must have the courage to act promptly to retract materials when the scientific methods, results and/or ethical aspects are called into question and research misconduct is detected.(5) They must purge the scientific literature flawed by any of the forms of misconduct set forth in the BMJ/COPE statement.
While the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and COPE formulated guidelines of retraction of articles for journal editors:(6,7)
• the overwhelming majority of 122 major biomedical journals reviewed in a 2004 study had no policy on issuing retractions;(8) and
• retraction policies and practices of the journals are not uniform.(9)
Amazingly, we now know that 24 years after retraction, a fraudulent article continued to be cited.(10) In short, the international biomedical community is yet to produce a uniform, effective regulatory mechanism to purge the scientific literature of flawed publications.(9)
To ensure ethics in research and publication:
1) All researchers must sign a declaration that what they submit is their own work; any material captured from other source is cited; and should the material submitted be found to the product of plagiarism or any other form of research misconduct, researchers accept in advance 10 year ban for plagiarism and permanent bar for research fraud without right of appeal.
2) Institutions must educate researchers about research ethics and formulate a code of conduct with zero-tolerance toward research misconduct by anyone within their walls, and have written procedures to address allegations of research misconduct. And
3) Indexed journals must have a common and publicly declared policy on retraction of flawed articles.
The scientific community and the publishing industry fail in this moral duty at their mutual peril—as well as that of the women, children and men whom they serve around the world.
Research integrity is not negotiable.
Subrata Chattopadhyay(1) MD, PhD, Erasmus Mundus Master of Bioethics (email@example.com) and John J Gillon, Jr,(2) JD, MPH, Erasmus Mundus Master of Bioethics
(1)Department of Physiology, Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences, Tadong, Gangtok, Sikkim 737102, India, and (2)Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University Medical Center, 4000 Reservoir Rd., Washington, DC 20057, U.S.A. (Attorney, Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Department of Commerce. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the view of the government of the United States or any of its agencies).
1. Godlee F. Research misconduct is widespread and harms patients. BMJ 2012;344:e14.
2. Thomas L. Clinical trial participants sue Duke University, Potti, Nevins and others for causing harm. The Cancer Letter 2011; 37:1,7.
3. A consensus statement on research misconduct in the UK BMJ 2012;344:e1111.
4. Cyranoski D. Research ethics: Zero tolerance. Nature. 2012; 481: 134-6.
5. Eggertson L. Lancet retracts 12-year-old article linking autism to MMR vaccines.
6. ICMJE. Corrections, Retractions and "Expressions of Concern" http://www.icmje.org/publishing_2corrections.html (accessed on February 23, 2012).
7. Wager E, Barbour V, Yentis S, Kleinert S; COPE Council. Retractions: guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Obes Rev. 2010; 11:64-6.
8. Atlas MC. Retraction policies of high-impact biomedical journals. J Med Libr Assoc. 2004; 92:242-50.
9. Van Noorden R. Science publishing: The trouble with retractions. Nature. 2011; 478: 26-8.
10. Korpela KM. How long does it take for the scientific literature to purge itself of fraudulent material?: the Breuning case revisited. Curr Med Res Opin. 2010; 26:843-7.
Conflicts of interest: We declare that we have no conflicts of interest.
Competing interests: No competing interests