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Strategy for boosting integrity of research is launched in UK

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4747 (Published 12 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4747
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. 1London

Leading research funders have signed an agreement outlining the high standards of integrity and research practice that researchers and the organisations that employ them will be expected to meet to secure funding.

The Concordat to support research integrity aims to provide a comprehensive national framework to aid the production of research founded on rigour, integrity, and excellence recognising the different responsibilities of researchers, employers of researchers, and funders under each if its five commitments.

It has been signed by the Department of Employment and Learning, Higher Education Funding Council for England, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Department of Health, Research Councils UK, Scottish Funding Council, Universities UK, and the Wellcome Trust.

The document acknowledges that there is a need for the research community to promote what it does more effectively “through greater openness and transparency” and to ensure it is “adhering to consistently high standards.” This involves embedding research integrity within institutional processes, through the training and practice of researchers, and within the research environment.

“We do not believe that the case has been made for introducing a new and additional regulatory mechanism for research,” the concordat says. Instead, it adds: “Funders of research could encourage adoption of the concordat by associating it with their conditions of grant.”

This would mean funders of research expecting researchers and employers of researchers who receive funding to conform to the ethical, legal and professional standards relevant to their research “as part of their conditions of grant.”

The concordat recommends that organisations employing researchers appoint a senior member of staff to oversee research integrity, but this will be voluntary. The document does not make it clear how compliance with the standards should be monitored and confirmed either within the research organisation or by the funding body.

Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ, said: “I’m very pleased that the major funders are now going to make this a condition of funding. This is a crucially important step to ensure integrity in the UK. The question now is how they will monitor this and hold grant holders to account.”

The concordat recommends that institutions make a public statement on these issues. It also says that the sector as a whole, through the signatories, should hold a stakeholders’ forum to provide a focus for debates on research integrity and produce an annual statement outlining what is being done to strengthen the integrity of UK research.

A draft version of the concordat and its five commitments was put out for consultation in April,1 after a BMJ/COPE high level meeting in January 2012, which issued a consensus statement urging that the UK’s mechanisms for ensuring good research conduct and investigating research misconduct needed strengthening.2

That consensus statement said: “Primary responsibility for good research conduct rests with individual researchers. However, institutions have direct responsibility as employers to ensure good research conduct, and funders have a duty to hold institutions to account.”

Research funders should require research institutions to appoint a research integrity officer and register with a national advisory and oversight body, such as a beefed up UK Research Integrity Office, to which all allegations and investigations of research misconduct should be reported, it added.

The commitments have been revised after the consultation and now state that the research community should demonstrate that they:

• Underpin all of their work with common values of rigour and integrity

• Conform to all ethical, legal, and professional obligations incumbent on their work

• Nurture a research environment that supports research of the highest standards of rigour and integrity

• Use transparent, robust and fair processes to handle allegations of misconduct

• Continue to monitor, and where necessary improve, the suitability and appropriateness of the mechanisms in place to provide assurances over the integrity of research.

Launching the concordat, Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said that ensuring the integrity of research was vital to safeguard the UK’s world class reputation for research. Although it represents less than 1% of the world’s population, the UK undertakes 5% of global research and produces about 14% of the most highly cited papers.

“Research in the UK is already subject to rigorous safeguards and the concordat represents a shared commitment to research founded on integrity, rigour and excellence. Universities take their research responsibilities very seriously and we recognise that any misconduct must be dealt with robustly and transparently. However, it is equally important that we focus on the positive work being done to enable researchers to work in a supportive environment which nurtures integrity and rigour, lessening the chances of misconduct in the first place,” he said.

There has been a renewed focus on research integrity internationally, and the concordat follows the Singapore Statement of Research Integrity (2010) and the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2011).

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4747

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