Research integrity is an active, positive pursuit, and not merely the absence of scientific wrongdoing. It's the sum total of all the little decisions scientists make in the course of their scientific work: the way they handle data, treat trainees and peers, deal with regulatory requirements, keep the books, and so on. It's the foundation of everything we do as scientists, but very few of us ever take a class in it.
Why not? Perhaps we're like the fish, from the Hindu story, that doesn't know what water is. Integrity in research is so pervasive and fundamental that we're not even aware of its existence as long as things are going swimmingly. It's only in turbid times that we are forced to pay attention.
For the most part, that's OK. At the advanced level, research training occurs mainly via apprenticeships. And probably the best way to learn scientific integrity is by example, from principled mentors who model scientific virtues: meticulous attention to detail, an intensely critical approach (including, especially, to their own work), a commitment to truth above reputation -- or to the idea that reputation is intrinsically linked to truth -- and so on. Of course, not everyone has a principled mentor who is a master scientist who recognizes the importance of passing on the unspoken substance of what we do as scientists. And even for those trainees who do have such mentors, there's value in conscious analysis, in the careful consideration of what integrity is, globally and in the context of particular fields and decisions, and what it means to have it and use it. That sort of conscious, questioning analysis is what we're hoping to encourage in this feature on research integrity, which will extend over several weeks.
We lead off the feature with a perspective from the co-chair of the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, encouraging careful consideration of the relationship between ethics and everyday choices in science.
Next, our columnist investigates the impact of the structure of the systems in which we work on the frequency of research misconduct and concludes, with experts on the subject, that science works best without hierarchy.
Regulations seem to discourage academic scientists from partnering with industry, but such collaboration is essential to translational research.
Despite new disclosure requirements, ghostwriters remain a threat, to the integrity of the scientific literature as well as careers.
In science, you have to be careful to be ethical.
We'll have more on this topic in the coming weeks.
Photo:(top) Dan Bergstromon Flickr (Creative Commons License)