Recent article: Interventions to prevent misconduct and promote integrity in research and publication (member review)

Last modified: May 20, 2017

by Rikard Juttmann

In the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, April 4th, 2016, the systematical review “Interventions to prevent misconduct and promote integrity in research and publication” was published by Ana Marusic I strongly recommend this paper for reading by NRIN members. The objective of the authors was to evaluate the effectiveness of especially educational interventions in research integrity or responsible conduct of research on the behavior and attitudes of researchers in health and other research areas. For this purpose they searched, following the standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane, relevant articles published between 1990 and 2014. Thirty-one studies published in 33 papers met the inclusion criteria, including 15 randomized controlled trials and 16 observationally controlled studies. In short, with the exception of some inconsistent effects on participants’ attitudes towards plagiarism and their confidence in avoiding it, the authors found very low quality evidence that various methods of training in research integrity had some effects on participants’ attitudes to ethical issues but minimal (or short-lived) effects on their knowledge.

Three different conclusions resulting from these data seem to be possible:

  1. Training of researchers in scientific integrity is useless.
  2. The evidence base relating to interventions to improve research integrity is incomplete and the studies that have been done are heterogeneous, inappropriate for meta-analyses and their applicability to other settings and population is uncertain. This research field is immature. Extent and methodology should be upgraded.
  3. The authors, as well as the authors of the investigated papers, are by and large moving astray. Randomized and other clinical trials and meta-analyses of such studies are conceived as devices for evaluating pharmaceutical interventions. The extension to the evaluation of other medical interventions is generally accepted as standard, but has nevertheless delivered considerable methodological challenges, which presently are not even entirely met yet. Extension to evaluation of training programs is one step too far. Such studies are just unfit for approaching with this research paradigm.

Obviously, the authors of the paper support the second possibility and advocate further exploration and exploitation of the research field they have investigated, as to falsify the first conclusion. Supporters of the third conclusion may not sit back in skepticism, but are obliged to look for alternative research paradigms for evaluating the effects of training on researchers’ ethical attitudes and acting.

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