In research we trust?

In research we trust?

Issued: Mon, 13 Mar 2017 12:23:00 GMT

The mainstream media have been taking a perhaps unexpected degree of interest in the issue of "reproducibility", following a study by the University of Virginia and a survey published last year in the journal Nature.

The issue was also the subject of an item recently on BBC Radio 4's Today programme - you can listen to it here, including an interview with the UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport.

Listen here

We asked the University of Glasgow's Vice Principal for Research, Professor Miles Padgett, for his reflections on reports of a "reproducibility crisis” in research.


Scientists are in the top five professions most trusted by the UK public [Ipsos MORI Veracity Index]. But the widely discussed “reproducibility crisis” - referring to the number of published research results that cannot be replicated - risks undermining this privileged position. The alarm has grown with the reporting in January of a systematic study that failed to replicate fully the findings of five high-profile cancer research papers [1].

But is there really a crisis, and should we be worried?

Research culture is founded on trust. Yet it is undeniably the case that, world-wide, an increasing volume of published research is being discredited and retracted owing to data fabrication or sloppy research practice. Our own institution is no exception [2].

The UK Government was concerned enough to launch an inquiry into research integrity [3], anxious for our research to regain public trust. In our University’s response to the inquiry [4], we have taken a positive stance, by listing practical steps we, and the sector, can take to create an environment in which best practice becomes the norm.

As researchers what can we all do to help ourselves?

  • Look after our research data: store it safely, annotate it well, and share it as openly as possible so that it can be used to demonstrate the authenticity of our research. The Library is here to help at each stage and is now well set up to store our data and formally link it to our publications [5].
  • Reflect on our authorship list: is it clear which author on a research communication is responsible for doing what? Let’s declare and document this information whenever we can.
  • Keep up-to-date on good practice in our field: modern research methods are complex, technically, statistically and sometimes ethically too. We have a duty to gain or seek the expertise required — we should not be cutting corners with methods and study designs.

As researchers, we are all responsible for following and promoting good practice. Please discuss good research practice with your research group and collaborators, pointing them to University sources of training or advice [6].

I am proud that the University of Glasgow has a network of committed integrity advisers to guide us in this task [7].

Links

1. Cancer reproducibility project: www.nature.com/news/cancer-reproducibility-project-releases-first-results-1.21304
2. University of Glasgow Annual Assurance Statement 2015–6: www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_491328_en.pdf
3. Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Research Integrity: www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry6/
4. University of Glasgow response to House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Research Integrity: www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_517049_en.pdf
5. Research Data Management Service: www.gla.ac.uk/services/datamanagement
6. University of Glasgow Research Integrity Resources: www.gla.ac.uk/services/rsio/researchstrategypolicies/researchintegrity/conduct/
7. University of Glasgow Research Integrity Advisers: www.gla.ac.uk/services/rsio/researchstrategypolicies/researchintegrity/advisers

With acknowledgements to the BBC for the use of the Today programme extract.

If you would like to comment - email communications@glasgow.ac.uk