About misconduct in science and questionable scientific practices.

An international standard would make it easier to discredit improper arguments within science. In lieu of such standard, other sources may be helpful . Below are some extracts from Responsible Science, Volume I: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. This report by, the National Academy of Sciences, is freely available from National Academies Press.

To scientists with high ethical standards, the report may seem mild in its form. It is evident from the text that the panel regard the relationship between misconduct and questionable practice to be “Not well understood”. At the same time the panel “wishes to make a clear demarcation between misconduct in science and questionable research practices”. In other words: The panel wish to make a clear demarcation between misconduct and questionable research practice but has not been able to do so.

To me that is a clear sign that reliable science does not contain any of the characteristics for either misconduct or questionable practice.

“Misconduct in Science
Misconduct in science is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, in proposing, performing, or reporting research. Misconduct in science does not include errors of judgment; errors in the recording, selection, or analysis of data; differences in opinions involving the interpretation of data; or misconduct unrelated to the research process.”

“Questionable research practices
Questionable research practices are actions that violate traditional values of the research enterprise and that may be detrimental to the research process. However, there is at present neither broad agreement as to the seriousness of these actions nor any consensus on standards for behavior in such matters. Questionable research practices do not directly damage the integrity of the research process and thus do not meet the panel’s criteria for inclusion in the definition of misconduct in science. However, they deserve attention because they can erode confidence in the integrity of the research process, violate traditions associated with science, affect scientific conclusions, waste time and resources, and weaken the education of new scientists.

Questionable research practices include activities such as the following:

  • Failing to retain significant research data for a reasonable period
  • Maintaining inadequate research records, especially for results that are published or are relied on by others
  • Conferring or requesting authorship on the basis of a specialized service or contribution that is not significantly related to the research reported in the paper
  • Refusing to give peers reasonable access to unique research materials or data that support published papers;
  • Using inappropriate statistical or other methods of measurement to enhance the significance of research findings;
  • Inadequately supervising research subordinates or exploiting them; and
  • Misrepresenting speculations as fact or releasing preliminary research results, especially in the public media, without providing sufficient data to allow peers to judge the validity of the results or to reproduce the experiments.

The panel wishes to make a clear demarcation between misconduct in science and questionable research practices—the two categories are not equivalent, and they require different types of responses by the research community and research institutions. However, the relationship between these two categories is not well understood. It may be difficult to tell, initially, whether alleged misconduct constitutes misconduct in science or a questionable research practice. In some cases, for example, scientists accused of plagiarism have testified about an absence of appropriate training methods for properly citing the work of others. The selective use of research data is another area where the boundary between fabrication and creative insight may not be obvious.

The panel emphasizes that scientists, individually and collectively, need to take questionable research practices seriously because when tolerated, such practices can encourage an environment that fosters misconduct in science. But questionable practices are not equivalent to misconduct in science, and they are not appropriate subjects for investigations directed to misconduct.”


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  1. Pingback: Index – Posts by “Science or Fiction” | Science or fiction?

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