At the end of December it’s hard to resist the temptation to try to draw out themes from the year. And this year there have been some very big themes; the main one being I think a crystallisation of understanding from groups across the spectrum of academia of how core publication ethics is to research integrity more widely. What has lagged behind somewhat is the acceptance that there are some very fundamental problems within the reward system of academia which even the best practices in publication ethics cannot solve unless the fundamental issues in academia are addressed.
Two issues at the end of the year highlight this theme. First, a thoughtful report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics - The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK, made some hard hitting observations including “the potential for high levels of competition to encourage poor quality research practices”, which will require a concerted and a collaborative response from everyone involved in academia, including, but very much not limited to, journals, publisher and editors. COPE strongly supports the report’s findings.
The second issue illustrates what happens when the pressure to publish becomes extreme. The uncovering of companies systematically manipulating publications, by the use of fake reviewers and more, offers an alarming glimpse into what can happen if reward systems are implemented with no thought or oversight. COPE is working with publishers and editors to respond to this issue.
These two issues illustrate the spectrum of behaviours incentivised by perverse reward systems and will not be easy to address. But starting the debate is a necessary first step to fixing the system. Journals and editors cannot do this alone, but they can be vigilant and professional in their handling of these issues, and COPE will continue to support editors and publishers as they do this.
This might seem an overly gloomy note to end the year on, but the fact that these issues are being aired is a tremendous first step and should be a cause for optimism.
From all of us at COPE we wish you a restful holiday season and look forward to working with journals and publishers on whatever 2015 brings.