THURSDAY, 2 JULY 2015Cases of scientific misconduct and unreplicable results, such as the infamous study (now debunked) linking MMR vaccines to autism, have given rise to a concern that science is broken and scientists are to be mistrusted. But how can scientific integrity be maintained when so much emphasis seems to be placed on novel results that can be translated into sensationalist headlines? The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands recently convened a group of top scientists from leading US institutions to discuss how to remove the current disincentives for research integrity and quality.
In an opinion piece published in Science last week, the group calls for a reward system for academics that focuses on actual quality of publications, rather than quantity or impact-factor measures; improvement of the peer-review process by increasing the quality of editorial responses, mentoring young reviewers, and uncovering instances of biased reviewers; reduction of the stigma associated with the term 'retraction' by using 'voluntary withdrawal' when papers are retracted due to errors instead of fraudulent results.
To ensure a swift investigation of publications where scientific misconduct is suspected, the group of scientists recommends the institution of an independent Scientific Integrity Advisory Board, which the NAS had already called for in 1992 but was never implemented. This Board would take a leading role in addressing ethical issues in research conduct. The group also called for the education of everyone involved in research, from students to universities' press offices, in the ethics of research. As the authors write: “All researchers need to realize that the best scientific practice is produced when, like Darwin, they persistently search for flaws in their arguments”. Could this then be the end of the 'publish or perish' trend in academia? Time will tell.
Written by Ana Leitao-Fernandes-Duarte.