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Universities ‘should bolster their research integrity policies’

Institutional guidelines, mandatory training and better incentives would strengthen integrity and boost trust, paper says

Universities should be doing more to ensure the integrity of their research and to retain the trust of society at large, says a paper from League of European Research Universities.

The Leru paper published on 24 January is co-authored by Antoine Hol, a law professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and Inge Lerouge, an ethics and integrity coordinator at KU Leuven in Belgium, with an input from its thematic group on the issue.

“Universities should be at the forefront of developing and implementing new approaches to research integrity that will maintain and strengthen the confidence of the public, governments, research funders and end users,” say Hol and Lerouge in the paper.

Among their recommendations are that universities should devise and share research integrity guidelines, appoint specialist personnel on the issue, and make integrity education mandatory for students.

“The excellence of research produced by universities is intrinsically linked to the integrity of their researchers,” they say.

They also say universities should value negative results and replication studies; improve researchers’ knowledge of and use of statistics; encourage researchers to make their raw data available and introduce fairer rewards for “researchers who conduct excellent, but maybe not newsworthy research”.

Hol told Research Professional News that universities have already improved their research integrity in recent decades but that they now need to do even more.

“They should be developing more explicit policy with regard to research integrity so that people who do the work become aware that things can go wrong,” Hol said. “They should be aware of what can go wrong and how the outer world looks at it.”

He said this would echo developments towards greater awareness of integrity issues in broader society, such as in the judiciary and health organisations. “They feel the need to show to the outer world that what they are doing is okay,” he said.

Another reason to improve the integrity is to make research more reproducible and reliable.

“It is important that we are open about data and that data are shared so that others can have a look at [them] and find out if the outcomes of research are plausible, and can use the data to start new research,” he said.