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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Research misconduct in the UK: Time to Act

By Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, and Elizabeth Wager, Chair
British Medical Journal

Research misconduct can harm patients, distort the evidence base, misdirect research effort, waste funds, and damage public trust in science. Countries all over the developed world are now recognising the need to set up systems to deter, detect, and investigate research misconduct. Why does the United Kingdom have no plans to do the same?

As Aniket Tavare outlines in the linked feature (doi:10.1136/ bmj.d8212), high profile cases of misconduct have led the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway, and Poland, among others, to create formal mechanisms for overseeing research integrity. In most countries responsibility lies with the institutions, but oversight varies greatly, and it is unclear which systems are most effective and efficient. None is perfect—the remit of the US Office of Research Integrity is limited to publicly funded health research; Australia’s recently established Research Integrity Committee is already being criticised for lacking teeth. But each system shows that the problem has been acknowledged, that institutions accept primary responsibility, and that governments and funders are seriously committed to tackling misconduct openly and with a range of statutory powers.

In contrast, the UK has no official national body. The UK Research Integrity Office was established in 2006 and has done some useful things. But its function has always been advisory, and now that the major funders represented by Research Councils UK (RCUK) have decided not to continue the funding, it relies on voluntary funding from institutions. The Research Integrity Futures Working Group, set up by RCUK and Universities UK (UUK) and other bodies, has also apparently come to nothing. The working group’s report commissioned in 2009 called for an independent advisory body, similar to the
UK Research Integrity Office but operating across all research sectors and with a stronger monitoring and preventive function. But RCUK pleaded budget cuts and decided not to implement the  recommendations.  It says it is working with UUK on a “concordat” to take some aspects forward, but two years on nothing has been announced.

The entire editorial can be found in the public domain.

BMJ 2012;344:d8357 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d8357