Research Integrity: a Regulatory Future?

The POSTnote on Integrity in Research (January 2017) summarises the key approaches to supporting, and the challenges around, good research practice in the UK (albeit from a predominantly science context: POST being the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology).

Parliamentary Copyright 2017The note concludes with the emerging question as to whether publicly funded UK research should be subject to regulatory oversight.

Direct regulation of certain research activities certainly has its place in, for example, the complexities of research involving animals, or clinical trials involving human participants…  but can research integrity be imposed? 

From my experience, ownership of integrity – in this case, both the integrity of the researcher and the integrity of their research – is crucial.

After all, research integrity is both an individual and a collective responsibility. It is embedded within the social and cultural norms of the local research environment and the wider institution, respects the autonomy of the researcher, and embraces the diversity of and synergy between all research disciplines.

Research integrity does not exist in a vacuum, but within the broader context of professional integrity in academia. The  principles of honesty, rigour, transparency and open communication, and care and respect (Concordat to Support Research Integrity, 2012) have a far broader applicability within the academic context.

Consequently, a commitment to good scholarship from a learning and teaching perspective, fostered at an undergraduate level, prepares students for the rigours of research integrity as they embark upon their doctoral pathway. And opportunities for reflective practice around research integrity, within the context of researcher development, support individuals in nurturing not only their own integrity but that of their research community.

The development of research integrity should be understood as an ongoing process: established during a researcher’s formative years, founded on academic values and principles, and honed throughout an individual’s career.

Direct regulation of narrowly defined research misconduct (informed by an individual’s lack of integrity) has been modelled outside the UK.

But research integrity itself is borne by the academic community, and exists far beyond the reach of regulation.

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