New Incentives Needed to Uphold Scientific Integrity

An article in the June 26 issue of Science says that new efforts are required to preserve the integrity of science in the midst of what appear to be an increasing incidence of irreproducible findings and article retractions.

Reprinted with permission from AAAS.
Reprinted with permission from AAAS.

The article, “Self-correction in science at work,” suggests that incentives should be changed so that researchers are “rewarded for publishing well rather than often,” for example, in tenure cases and grant submissions. The authors make the case for replacing the term retraction with phrases that distinguish between types of retraction, such as “voluntary withdrawal” and “withdrawal for cause.” The use of such alternative language might help remove the stigma from a voluntary withdrawal by a researcher who later discovers a mistake, and increase it for misconduct.

The group also called for creation of an independent Scientific Integrity Advisory Board, as was first proposed by the National Academy of Sciences in 1992, as a “respected and neutral resource” to support research institutions in upholding ethical conduct.

The article followed a winter conference on Ensuring the Integrity of Science convened jointly by the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands and the National Academy of Sciences. The Sunnylands/NAS retreat was organized by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, program director at Sunnylands and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Barbara Kline Pope, executive director of communications for the National Academies.

“Universities should insist that their faculties and students are schooled in the ethics of research, their publications feature neither honorific nor ghost authors, their public information offices avoid hype in publicizing findings, and suspect research is promptly and thoroughly investigated,” the article said.

The authors also wrote that industry should publish failed efforts to reproduce scientific findings.

The article was written by Bruce Alberts; Ralph J. Cicerone; Stephen E. Fienberg; Alexander Kamb; Marcia McNutt; Robert M. Nerem; Randy Schekman; Richard Shiffrin; Victoria Stodden; Subra Suresh; Marcia T. Zuber; and the conference organizers, Pope and Jamieson. The article can be found here.

Participants in a February 2015 retreat on ensuring integrity in science.
Participants in a February 2015 retreat on ensuring integrity in science, from left: Bruce Alberts; Stephen E. Feinberg; Randy Schekman; Alexander Kamb; Victoria Stodden; Maria T. Zuber; Ralph J. Cicerone; Richard Shiffrin; Marcia McNutt; Robert M. Nerem; Subra Suresh; Barbara Kline Pope; Kathleen Hall Jamieson.