How to avoid misconduct in research and publishing
A new program and interactive website educates early-career researchers about their role in advancing science with good ethical standards
By Inez van Korlaar, PhD, and Linda Muskat Rim Posted on 14 September 2012
Ethics in Research & Publication is Elsevier's new program for early-career researchers.
When Mary Kate Donais was asked to review a manuscript as a research student at a government laboratory, she noticed the introductory paragraph was taken from a grant proposal she had submitted months earlier.
"It wasn't even original research; it was definitely a lazy attempt at trying to do something," recalled Dr. Donais, now Associate Professor of Chemistry at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. "It was an eye-opener that there are people who would make a poor decision like that."
Plagiarism, authorship disputes and research fraud are just a few of the forms of misconduct young researchers encounter, often without the skills and guidance to deal with them. Some researchers unknowingly cross ethical boundaries themselves because they don't know what the boundaries are. Students and young researchers may not be aware of what constitutes a breach and how just one violation — even through lack of knowledge — can affect their career and society at large. Scientific research is used to make decisions about everything from medical treatment to government spending on infrastructure and the environment.
Despite growing awareness and focus on the issue of ethical misconduct in research and publishing, more and more cases are being detected. And although publishers are introducing new and effective tools to detect plagiarism and duplicate submissions, better prevention strategies are needed to teach those new to the scientific community what to avoid.
With this need in mind, Elsevier colleagues formed an internal team to figure out how best to add to the resources that are already in place. Employees with expertise in publishing ethics, author communications, editor and librarian relations gathered to share their perspectives, brainstorm, and assemble an independent advisory panel of experts well-versed in current ethical issues and the evolving approaches to solving them. This Ethics Advisory Panel vetted ideas and materials for the site, presented workshops, and will also be hosting live webinars for young researchers as the program rolls out.[note color="#f1f9fc" position="right" width=400 margin=10]
Ethics Advisory Panel
Dr. David Rew, Medical Subject Chair, Scopus Content Selection and Advisory Board and Consultant General Surgeon with Southampton University Hospitals, UK.
Professor Alexander T "Sandy" Florence, Editor in Chief, International Journal of Pharmaceutics and Emeritus Professor of Pharmacy, University of London.
Ole Gunnar Evensen, Assistant Director, University of Bergen Library, Norway.
Professor Margaret Rees, Secretary of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), UK Editor in Chief of Maturitas, Emeritus Reader in Reproductive Medicine in Oxford.
For more on the panel, visit the website's Experts' Corner.[/note]
The result of this collaboration is Ethics in Research & Publication (www.ethics.elsevier.com), an interactive program that emphasizes the individual researcher's contribution to advancing science through integrity and good ethical standards. It also highlights the impact misconduct can have on the science community as a whole and on one's career.
The overarching program message is "Make your research count. Publish ethically."
To make this message resonate, the team looked for creative ways to address the concerns of young researchers while conveying the wisdom of those who have been in their shoes.
The website features:
- An interactive quiz to test your ethics IQ
- A toolkit with downloadable fact sheets and materials that answer the question, "What should you do to avoid misconduct in specific situations?"
- A poster: 'Top 5 Reasons to Publish Ethically
At the heart of the program are interviews and personal viewpoints from researchers who have witnessed or been victims of misconduct. One of them is Mary Kate Donais, whose story can be found in the From the Community section on the website.[note color="#f1f9fc" position="right" width=400 margin=10]
What's your story?
Have you ever experienced ethical misconduct?
If you have a story you would like to share for possible publication on the Ethics in Research & Publication website, you can submit it via the Connect link.
To submit a story idea to Elsevier Connect, email Editor-in-Chief Alison Bert (email@example.com).
And please feel free to continue the conversation in the comment section below.[/note]
Another researcher who was interviewed, now an assistant research professor in California, recalled the time when he was a post-doc in a foreign country. "I was suggesting experiments, and the host/Principal Investigator (PI) said they were a waste of time, but I was convinced they were a good idea," he said. "Against the will of the PI, I pursued the idea and showed and proved with first preliminary data that this was worth following up."
Eventually the project was approved. That's when the trouble began.
"All of a sudden in a lab meeting, I see this manuscript shifting from one of the researchers who was now in charge of the project to the PI," he recalled. "I was completely baffled because I hadn't been consulted on what was, in my eyes, my project. … When I asked to see the manuscript I was told 'not to worry about it.' When I said I do need to worry about it because it is my project, I was told it wasn't my project.
Ole Gunnar Evensen with Catriona Fennell at the Euroscience Open Forum conference in Dublin[/caption]
After a "heated exchanged," he was eventually listed as the third author, he said, although he was prohibited from giving input, and the manuscript was submitted without his recommendations. The full interview is on the program website.
"Ethical issues are a shared problem for all involved in research and publishing," said Catriona Fennell, Director of Publishing Services for STM Journals at Elsevier and one of the main drivers behind the program. "We felt our strongest impact would be in providing the tools to help researchers learn the 'rules' and how to comply with them."
The program was launched with a series of workshops at the 2012 Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) in Dublin, given by advisory panel member Ole G. Evensen. In Evensen's words: "Our goal is simple: to educate students on publishing ethics so well that no one can ever claim 'I didn't know better.'"
When asked about what impact her own experience has had on her career today, Dr. Donais said: "I use it as a lesson with my students. … I talk to them about what's involved and the honesty and ethics behind it — whether it's borrowing some phrasing for an introductory paragraph or something more significant, like tweaking data a little bit to make it look better, or discarding data just because it doesn't fit with the rest of the data. I reinforce that they have to be honest with their laboratory work and their written work."
The Ethics & Research in Publication website will be continuously updated with expert commentary, real-life stories, and new tools. If you have a story you would like to share or a question about ethics for one of our experts, please let us know by using the "connect link" on the program's website.
Why publish ethically?
Here are some thoughts from members of the research community:
"Telling the truth is not necessarily a guarantee that one will get appreciation but it will surely contribute to the advancement of science in (the) right direction." — Saima Memo, Assistant Professor, Institute for Advanced Research Studies in Chemical Studies, University of Sindh, Pakistan
"Truth and reliability are the keystones of academic research. If the ethical bounds are breached, then you get a false sense of progress which will do much more harm than good in the long run." — Norm Hutcherson, Librarian, California State University, Bakersfield, USA
"Graduate students and even many post docs often enter the world of scientific publishing without much guidance about ethics in publishing. Sometimes, they find out the hard way that their expectations aren't considered "ethical" by established scientists. Crystal clear, specific guidelines about publishing ethics would be a welcome addition to the training of the majority of graduate students, and, if effective, would minimize a lot of mental anguish and wasted time." — Samuel Flaxman, Assistant Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA
For more comments, visit the From the Community section of the program's website.[divider]
As Director of Project Management for STM Journals Marketing at Elsevier, Inez van Korlaar is responsible for the global marketing projects for the STM journals department, which includes outreach to researchers in their role as an author. She is based in Amsterdam.
As a consultant to Elsevier, Linda Muskat Rim worked with the team to develop the Ethics in Research & Publication program. She is principal of LMR Marcom, a communications consultancy specializing in STM publishing, health advocacy and pharmaceutical public relations. She is based in New York.