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Research Integrity, Sixth Report of Session 2017-19 from the House of Commons

Following a 10 month inquiry, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has issued recommendations to strengthen requirements and improve compliance with the existing 2012 Concordat to Support Research Integrity [full report]. Compliance with new and existing standards would be assured by establishing an oversight committee with responsibility for verifying that research institutions have followed appropriate methods to investigate research misconduct and report annually on compliance, according to Norman Lamb, MP and Chair of the committee. Existing models for such a committee (e.g., Australian Research Integrity Committee, the Canadian Panel on Responsible Conduct of Research, the Danish Committee on Research Misconduct) are also suggested but not mandated. The UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) was established in 2006 as an advisory body to support research integrity in the UK, but membership is voluntary and does not reflect the broad scope of UK research institutions.

Testimony before the Committee was invited from a broad range of individuals and institutions involved in maintaining research integrity, including COPE who was represented by then Council Member Dr. Elizabeth Moylan. There was a focus on retractions in one session; widespread concern about retractions of published articles by journals was evident in the questioning. Responding to direct questions about increasing numbers of retractions, Dr. Moylan responded “It is not necessarily all bad. The way research operates is inherently messy; mistakes happen. We have to be comfortable with that. We are all human. How we fix it and make that transparent is the key.” Further testimony by Dr. Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, addressed specific questions about the number of retractions of published articles from the UK, stating that approximately 400 had been retracted since 1977. According to Dr. Oransky, the overall increase in retractions likely reflects “a greater willingness of journals to withdraw problematic papers; a growing reliance on software tools to detect plagiarism; and more attention to manipulated or otherwise inappropriate images.”

Many other notable individuals provided similar and supporting evidence that the conduct and reporting research is a complex endeavor involving many actors. Of great interest to COPE is the ways in which our editor and publisher members handle allegations of misconduct. COPE’s core practices provide resources for our members to support the highest standards in publication ethics. Core Practice #1 specifically addresses policies and processes required to adequately address allegations of misconduct. The institutional investigations are an essential piece of the evidence in understanding what happened. Improving understanding and working relationships between journals and institutions where research occurs has been recognized by COPE members as crucial to advancing standards of publication ethics issues and is a foundational concept of the COPE Institutional pilot initiative announced in June 2017. 

The report on research integrity from the UK House of Commons supports the need for adequate, unbiased investigations into research integrity in the UK. The report is lengthy, supported by links to experts’ written testimony and transcripts of spoken testimony.  UK research institutions and the names of research integrity officials are listed in a table in the appendix, along with self-reported research integrity responsibilities and contact information.

Charon Pierson, COPE Treasurer