Research integrity versus the pressure to publish

Marielba Nuñez
Freelance journalist from Venezuela, SciDev.Net

Sometimes the shadow of ethics hangs over  the manner in which research is conducted, especially on humans, and the  way in which data and results are presented –  or sometimes brushed under the carpet, if they turn out to  be negative,  This is even more relevant to developing countries that are emerging as hubs for international clinical research trials, because of lower costs on conducting trails and easier recruitment of trial participants.

The ethical integrity of scientific research sometimes is compromised in several ways: from unethical recruitment of participants,  conflict of interests; breach of privacy and confidentiality; and  whether guidelines were followed properly for obtaining informed consent of the participants.

Then there is plagiarism or falsification of data and results.

Several times in my career as a journalist I found myself writing on research that turned out to be based on false information, and I’m afraid one of the consequences of this is the loss of credibility of the science in general.

An ESOF session discussed the second half of the problem  — falsification of data and plagiarism.

The pressure to publish sometimes leads to unethical research practice, says Sabine Kleinert. Photo credit: University of Zurich

One of the factors that leads to unethical practice in science is the pressure to publish in peer-reviewed, high impact factor journals, a must for  progress of a scientist’s career, panelists said.

This occurs also in Latin America, where the publication in international journals is one of the major and few parameters for measuring the productivity of a researcher.

The pressure to publish was recognized by Sabine Kleinert, of the Lancet committee of ethics, as a factor contributing to unacceptable practices. “This makes the editors guardians of the truth of the records”, she said during the session.

The task is not easy for journal editors either, as they deal with  huge numbers of research papers.

The journal editors have taken up the matter and, with initiatives such as Committee on Publications Ethics which now has about 7,000 members.

So there is reason to hope for a stricter vigil.

This blog post is part of our ESOF 2012 blog which takes place 11-15 July, 2012. To read news and analysis on themes related to the conference please visit our website.

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