Year : 2020 | Volume
: 27 | Issue : 3 | Page : 259--260
'Publish and flourish or perish': Ensuring integrity in research conduct and reporting
Department of Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria
Prof. Adesola Ogunniyi
Department of Medicine, University College Hospital, PMB 5116, Ibadan
|How to cite this article:|
Ogunniyi A. 'Publish and flourish or perish': Ensuring integrity in research conduct and reporting.Niger Postgrad Med J 2020;27:259-260
|How to cite this URL:|
Ogunniyi A. 'Publish and flourish or perish': Ensuring integrity in research conduct and reporting. Niger Postgrad Med J [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Nov 24 ];27:259-260
Available from: https://www.npmj.org/text.asp?2020/27/3/259/289908
The National Code of Health Research Ethics defines research as a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalisable knowledge. Research is the bedrock of science which thrives on creativity, innovation, collaboration and integrity. The world has witnessed tremendous changes and development in all spheres of life largely through the implementation of research findings. However, research must be conducted with honesty, and the findings disseminated in a timely manner for the benefit of humanity. Replication of research findings by others is essential for veracity, consistency and for the establishment of community of practice.
Research misconduct comprises plagiarism, falsification and fabrication of data in the main, as well as any deliberate, dangerous or negligent deviations from standard research practices or failure to follow established protocol., Commitment of any of these 'sins' violates moral precepts, undermines trust which is a basic tenet of science and in some jurisdictions, may be criminal. The phrase 'Publish or Perish' captures the enormous pressure on academicians in the ivory towers to document productivity towards their promotion. The greater the number of papers published, the faster the climb up the academic ladder. Such rise is facilitated by carrying out and publishing well-designed and executed studies, obtaining grants and timely dissemination. This guarantees a flourishing career which is the envy of those who do not publish adequately. It is, therefore, not unusual that a few individuals would cut corners and commit various misconducts to make up for their deficiencies.
This issue of the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical Journal contains an editorial article to guide policy on research misconduct in our universities and postgraduate medical fellowship programmes where the submission of proposals, theses or dissertations are required for higher certification. This paper was based on a rigorous literature search with distillation of ideas from other climes to guide researchers in Nigeria and contains clear and unambiguous specifications on authorship of manuscripts, the definition and the scope of research misconduct. In addition, there were suggestions on the steps to take for reporting and investigating misconduct as well as suggested appropriate penalties for infringement of the rules. Plagiarism is the easiest to detect among the 'big 3' (i.e., fabrication, falsification and plagiarism) because there are computational tools such as 'Turnitin' and 'iThenticate' for its detection, unlike the others that require the watchful eyes of colleagues and possibly a whistle-blower. Plagiarism was, therefore, given due attention, and a computer-derived similarity score between articles >20% is suggested to constitute a punishable offence. This indeed is a welcome development because hitherto, formal sanctioning of unethical practices in research has not been accorded the priority it deserves on a national scale.
Although there is a paucity of data on research misconduct in Nigeria, findings from the study by Adeleye and Adebamowo revealed that the practice is not uncommon as more than half of researchers in three medical and dental schools located in two adjoining states in southern Nigeria admitted to at least one research wrongdoing and the most common were inadequate record keeping, fabrication of data, falsification of results and plagiarism. Pressure to publish and ignorance were some of the reasons adduced for committing these offences. Okonta and Rossouw reported that plagiarism was more likely to involve early career researchers, while data falsification (fabrication/falsification) was associated with perceived low effectiveness of the institution's rules and procedures for detecting misconduct, suggesting weak surveillance methods in institutions and postgraduate colleges. The value of mentoring of early career academic staff is brought to the fore so that research etiquette can be learnt and adhered to.
Research misconduct is a global problem, and various countries have set up official mechanisms for dealing with it. The US has the Office of Research Integrity, while in the UK, this is handled by the UK Research Integrity Office. Although the editorial article by Adesanya suggested policing research misconduct at institutional levels, a government ministry, agency or department may be required to superintend over research misconduct nationally. Between 2011 and 2018, six Nigerian universities (Ibadan, ABU Zaria, Lagos, Jos, Nsukka and Maiduguri) were part of the Medical Education Partnership Initiative, a programme made possible by grants from the US Government aimed at improving the quality of medical education and quantity of medical graduates through the retention of doctors in sub-Saharan Africa. The funds were derived from the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Many academic staff and students in these institutions benefited from curricula revision and continuing medical education courses on responsible conduct of research, while the institutions were encouraged to develop research management offices. This grant thus provided a platform for disseminating necessary information on research misconduct. Accordingly, ignorance of proper conduct in research should not be an excuse because it is inadmissible in law.
The editorial article by Adesanya is very timely and provides enough materials for deliberation by the various institutions' senate which is saddled with decision on academic matters so that each institution can develop guidelines to check unethical practices in research as well as prescribing necessary sanctions which must be severe enough to deter would-be perpetrators. Institutions should ideally place their adopted policies on research misconduct on their websites to increase awareness and serve as evidence of intolerance for shoddy research practices. Therein lies the integrity and discipline in conducting and reporting research for academic and professional progress.
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