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How universities can combat bad research practices
Author: Corporate Communication / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie [Alec Basson]
Published: 12/03/2020

​What can universities do to foster research integrity and help scientists avoid questionable research practices?

This was the question Prof Lex Bouter from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Amsterdam University Medical Center and the Department of Philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit tried to answer on Wednesday (11 March 2020). He delivered the first Stellenbosch Forum Lecture of 2020 in the Wilcocks Building on the Stellenbosch campus of Stellenbosch University (SU).

In his speech, Bouter described research integrity as the behaviour of researchers in terms of what they do to promote or hamper validity or enhance trust in science and between scientists.

He said that if universities and research institutions were serious about research integrity, “they must have good codes of conduct, guidelines and standard operating procedures that are invented and adapted for their local situations."

Bouter encouraged universities to provide good methodological and statistical support to scientists “because many questionable research practices and big mistakes made in science have to do with poor methods. Science is not easy and people need help."

He added that doctoral students, emerging researchers and senior academic staff needed adequate mentoring and training about research integrity.

“It is also important to have a system of internal audits which is often ignored in academic. We don't like audits in science but it's a good habit to a friendly form of audit."

Touching on the issue of whistle-blowing to expose questionable research practices, Bouter said that when there were allegations of research misconduct, it was important to have fair processes for handling such allegations to protect both whistle-blowers and the scientists they are accusing.

He highlighted the value of promoting an open research climate and culture where there could be discussions about errors and ways to avoid them in future.

Bouter said universities should remove perverse incentives to reward researchers. “We shouldn't just count publications and citations."

To help universities thwart questionable research practices, Bouter pointed to the 2019 Hong Kong Principles on Research Integrity which highlighted, among others, the importance of assessing research practices, valuing complete reporting of research findings, rewarding the practice of open science and acknowledging a broad range of research activities.

Photo: Researchers in a laboratory. Credit: Pixabay