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The issues of fraud, falsification and plagiarism in science were the topics of discussion at the first World Conference on Research Integrity. About 300 concerned scientists, scientific managers, policy makers and science press from 52 countries gathered in Lisbon last month to analyse and share their growing concerns over misconducts in science.
The event was initiated and organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) and the U.S. Office for Research Integrity (ORI). The conference itself marks a milestone for the science community as it linked, for the first time, all the concerned parties in a global effort to tackle the issue head on.
In Europe alone, the public funding organisations and the public research performing organisations are responsible for €25 billion in public money. “To have public money of that dimension is built on trust from politicians and the general public. So every single case of misconduct is a serious threat to the foundation of our research funding,” said Pär Omling, Director-General of the Swedish Research Council and President of European Heads of Research Councils (EuroHORCS).
During the three-day event participants and speakers including EU Commissioner for Research Janez Potočnik, Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the Organisation of for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Jose-Mariano Gago, the Portuguese Minister of Science, Technology and Higher Education and Commissioner were citing examples and statistical evidences of research misconduct from all over the world, ranging from the infamous Hwang Woo-Suk stem cell case in South Korea to little known fabrications in publications.
Ian Halliday, President of the ESF commented: “What I heard confirms what I personally believe is beyond the anecdotal level. There is pretty much more widespread misconduct on a low level which is not criminal but cutting corners, and which is done under pressure.”
Participants at the event were told that a lot of misconduct in research have not actually been reported or accounted for. This is evident in since 1994 the retraction rate for publications on PubMed, a service providing access to citations from biomedical literature, has been maintained at a mere 0.02 percent. One attribution to this is the mounting pressure on young scientists, forcing them to publish more papers, inducing misconduct, or on clinical trials, which often come close to data manipulations. Also plagiarism among students have increased, Omling pointed out.
Dr. Peter Tindemans from EuroScience in Strasbourg agreed by stating that misconduct is more frequent and the peer-review system has actually becoming more vulnerable.
“If the institutions insist on numbers as their main criteria for accountability, it is bound to add pressures on young scientists and therefore it may induce mistakes”, said Tindemans and mentioned two other examples: “Also if we allow entrepreneurship coming into academia, which is a thing which we must accept but on the conditions that again might induce misconduct.”
The cases of misconduct resulted from various factors. Apart from lacking values in science conduct, increasing pressure especially on young scientists from institutional structures, funding bodies, commercialisation and strong national research and education targets especially in many Asian countries could also add fuel to the fire.
While the number of publications from the U.S. has been decreasing, China, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have, meanwhile, increased their outputs by 15 percent, according to Ovid Tzeng from the National Yang Ming University in Taipei.
“The ranking system is very severe in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries. The governments allocate funding according to the ranking and ask only, how many papers do you have out? And having a paper published on “Nature” could be worth as much as US$1000 in cash,” Tzeng commented.
Professor Halliday from the ESF pointed out that these papers are usually matted with “fraud that will permeate the system.” And “the earlier these countries are pooled into an integrity system the better. These countries are aware of it, even on the high political level, but they are ignoring it, as they are ignoring the World Trade Organisation rules,” he added.
In other words the number of misconduct cases depends on various degree of regulation imposed. Currently many countries still lack policies on research monitoring, whereas some others exist only on an agency or political level.
“We need very simple information: If I suspect a researcher of another country that is not proper how would I report that? What is the system in that country? That is the least what we should know,” commented Nicolas Steneck from the US Office of Research integrity and the co-chair of the Lisbon conference.
In his outlook Tindemans recommended some specific actions that could be implemented to remedy the situation: Scientific misconduct, infringements on bioethical regulations; external pressures on the scientist and on the science institutions from the military system, the commercial system, and by political interferences; and also actions to increase institutional integrity.
“We should ask funding agencies, governments, and institutions to review rules to reduce pressure from quantity orientation on especially young scientists. That can be done without endangering quality and then maybe it will even enhance it,” Tindemans added.
The conference also touched on issues that are faced by the developing countries which mainly due to exaggerated national goals for the very often small community of researchers.
To download photos from the conference please click here
To access speeches and presentation from the conference please click here