All about research integrity: a beginner's guide & an in-depth course

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Thu Jun 1 2023

Author: Guest contributor

As a researcher — inherently dedicated to pursuing truth — you need to conduct your work ethically, and with integrity. But, what does research integrity — especially in regard to publishing your work — really mean? In real, practical terms? 

To help you come to grips with what this means, Springer Nature has developed a free, self-led course that will give you a solid foundation in research integrity. Among the topics covered: Study design, publication ethics, data integrity, clinical trial ethics, and more. 

Study design and execution

Carrying out the research with integrity includes clear and scrupulously honest documentation of what you do and the results obtained, complying with all appropriate guidelines and requirements for the type of research being carried out, and accurate, unbiased analysis of the results obtained. Poor planning or poor design can lead to a plethora of consequences (especially true if your work involves hazardous materials or procedures in any way). 

Your results can be rendered meaningless, resources and budget can be wasted, your reputation and credibility damaged and any publications from the work impacted. Funding (present or future) can then be affected. By contrast, well researched and conducted work will be more likely to answer the question you are investigating and better able to stand up to scrutiny such as peer review. This can also have a positive effect on reproducibility and future reputation.

Data integrity and management

Once research has begun, it is important to ensure that the resulting data, in whatever format it is produced, adheres to some basic tenets:

  • Data should never be fabricated, i.e. made up wholly or in part. This might seem obvious, but is still sadly prevalent, as seen in these high-profile examples from anesthesiology, evolutionary biology and biotechnology
  • Data should never be falsified. Analysis of data is obviously a key part of the research process, but this process should not change or omit data such that the research is no longer accurately represented. This would include removing individual data points or participants without appropriate justification, changing the brightness/contrast of a part of an image to enhance certain features etc. 
  • Data should be stored and archived, as well as backed up, to ensure integrity is maintained.
  • Maintain accurate metadata. Metadata refers to information about your data such as the project name, dates of collection, information about how and by whom data was collected and key parameters, units of measurement, etc. This is a crucial area with a lot of detail, and there is a detailed course, Managing Research Data, available from Nature Masterclasses to help.

Avoiding citation manipulation

Citation manipulation misrepresents the importance of a particular piece of work and the journal in which it appears. It results in distortion of the scholarly record. If a poor-quality study is cited, this in turn can result in anything from wasted time (as other researchers try to replicate or build on results that are of less importance or soundness than implied) to implications for such things as healthcare decisions. Funding or employment opportunities may be misapplied as a consequence.

How do I avoid citation problems?

  • Do ensure you clearly and accurately reference publications that are relevant to your work and manuscript. 
  • Don't include references only as favors to colleagues or in return for anything they offer you. 
  • Do consider whether reviewer requests to include citations would enhance the paper or not (if the journal uses open peer review, where reviewers are identified to the authors, you may be able to tell when a reviewer is requesting references to their own work). If the reference would not enhance the paper or is not relevant to your work, you should point this out in your response comments and/or flag it to the Editor. 
  • Do consider requests from journals in a similar way, and politely decline them if the requested citations are not relevant. If a journal appears to be committing citation manipulation deliberately, e.g. rejecting manuscripts for refusing to include irrelevant citations, consider reporting the matter to the Publisher for investigation. Journals can face serious consequences for citation manipulation.

To learn more about how to prepare for your next article ethically and with best practice for research integrity, you can take Springer Nature’s free online tutorial, Research integrity — an introduction for researchers.” 

You can also explore more resources at Nature Masterclasses and at AJE.


Author: Guest contributor

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