Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on the on The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK

We welcome the report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics: The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK. It is timely, coming as it does when there is increased scrutiny of the scientific literature, and importantly an increasing recognition of the need to address fundamental issues such as the lack of reproducibility in science.

The report is the culmination of many months of consultation among the scientific community and its report should be essential reading for anyone involved in journal publishing, and science and publication ethics. In one critical passage the report notes that  “Fifty-eight per cent of survey respondents are aware of scientists feeling tempted or under pressure to compromise on research integrity and standards,” and that “Suggested causes include high levels of competition in science and the pressure to publish”.

Rightly the reports notes that there is  “a collective obligation for the actors in the system to do everything they can to ensure the culture of research supports good research practice and the production of high quality science” and its recommendations for all involved in research reflect this obligation.

This report lays out once and for all that no-one group can or should be expected to effect change on its own. COPE has long supported editors in their handling of publication misconduct but it has also firmly recognized others’ responsibility in this area, especially that of institutions.

Above all, we welcome the recognition that the culture in science has to have ethical practices at its core – in the report’s words, that we need “an environment in which ethics is seen as a positive and integral part of performing research”. This would chime firmly with COPE”s experience. Research and publication ethics is not driven nor is it broken by one or two individuals; ethical research and publication practices require a culture of ethical research and publishing with education and support reaching all the way through the system from when a student first steps into higher education through to those at the highest levels of authority.