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Monday, August 2, 2021

Landmark research integrity survey finds questionable practices are surprisingly common

Jop De Vrieze
Science Magazine
Originally posted 7 Jul 21

More than half of Dutch scientists regularly engage in questionable research practices, such as hiding flaws in their research design or selectively citing literature, according to a new study. And one in 12 admitted to committing a more serious form of research misconduct within the past 3 years: the fabrication or falsification of research results.

This rate of 8% for outright fraud was more than double that reported in previous studies. Organizers of the Dutch National Survey on Research Integrity, the largest of its kind to date, took special precautions to guarantee the anonymity of respondents for these sensitive questions, says Gowri Gopalakrishna, the survey’s leader and an epidemiologist at Amsterdam University Medical Center (AUMC). “That method increases the honesty of the answers,” she says. “So we have good reason to believe that our outcome is closer to reality than that of previous studies.” The survey team published results on 6 July in two preprint articles, which also examine factors that contribute to research misconduct, on MetaArxiv.

When the survey began last year, organizers invited more than 60,000 researchers to take part—those working across all fields of research, both science and the humanities, at some 22 Dutch universities and research centers. However, many institutions refused to cooperate for fear of negative publicity, and responses fell short of expectations: Only about 6800 completed surveys were received. Still, that’s more responses than any previous research integrity survey, and the response rate at the participating universities was 21%—in line with previous surveys.

One of the preprints focuses on the prevalence of misbehavior—cases of fraud as well as a less severe category of “questionable research practices,” such as carelessly assessing the work of colleagues, poorly mentoring junior researchers, or selectively citing scientific literature. The other article focuses on responsible behavior; this includes correcting one’s own published errors, sharing research data, and “preregistering” experiments—posting hypotheses and protocols ahead of time to reduce the bias that can arise when these are released after data collection.