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‘Pandemic requires fresh emphasis on research integrity’


Inorms 2021: researchers told to pause and reflect on good practice amid Covid-19 pressures

Research managers have been told a greater attention to scientific integrity is needed amid the disruption, pressures and shifting international landscapes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Although researchers have been held up as heroes for rapidly adapting to Covid and for their work to halt its spread, there have been rising concerns about the quality of some work produced under pandemic pressures and about the transparency of crucial projects.

“Research integrity principles remain crucial to ensure trust in research during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Daniel Barr, the principal research integrity advisor at RMIT University in Australia, told the annual conference of the International Network of Research Management Societies (Inorms) in Hiroshima on 24 May.

Studies on research misconduct found “frequent and perhaps mundane breaches of integrity” among scientists even before the pandemic, he said.

It is known that multiple factors contribute to plagiarism or poor practice by researchers, including personality traits, their place of work and their level of experience. The pandemic may have added new pressures, or increased existing ones.

We know “very little” about how the Covid-19 pandemic might have changed factors influencing integrity, warned Barr, and more data is urgently needed.

In addition, he suggested researchers incorporate “the idea of pausing and stopping and reflecting” to boost ethical behaviour. “A researcher should constantly take stock of their actions…and subject those to the same critical scrutiny as the rest of their data,” he said.

Pandemic paranoia

At another session at the Inorms conference, Debra Schaller-Demers, senior director of research outreach and compliance at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, expressed concern that the pandemic could have a negative impact on research due to the political pressures it is placing on scientists and institutions.

Just this week there were warnings in the United States that politicians were considering amendments to legislation on research that could lead to racial profiling and witch hunts of Asian researchers.

Schaller-Demers said the pandemic had been taken advantage of by some as “an excuse to increase paranoia and distrust”, suggesting that xenophobia plays a role in allegations in the US that foreign researchers are passing research secrets related to Covid work back to their home nations.

She expressed concern that such negative examples would deter future research collaborations: “Are people going to think twice before seeking out collaborators in other countries?” Those who manage researchers should “protect” the scientific enterprise from “fear and bias and inequality” and political winds, she said.