Ethics and Integrity in Peer Reviewed Research

Ethics and Integrity in Peer Reviewed Research

This is the third in a three-part series on the importance of peer review. Click the links below to view related posts.


Many members of the academic community choose scholarly, peer- reviewed publications and presentations as the venue to share their important research findings. Embracing the researcher role requires the author’s commitment to follow established ethical standards.  Journal editors involved in the publication of this research also have ethical responsibilities.  The academic community relies on a peer reviewing process to ensure that only high quality, ethically conducted research is presented or published.  It is therefore vitally important to understand ethical research requirements and gain an awareness of deceptive practices from both the author and editor perspectives. 

Ethical and Professional Behaviors

Research misconduct remains a growing concern and is defined as “any deliberate conduct that goes against the more or less explicit ethical rules that a community of researchers has agreed on at a specific point in time concerning the behavior to adopt when preparing or publishing the results of a research project” (Cossette, 2004, p. 215).  Especially in the research setting, ethical and professional behaviors should be considered together and research authors should equally uphold both sets of standards, emphasizing integrity, accountability, and transparency throughout the entire research, publishing and presentation processes. “Generally, ethics rules tell us what we cannot do and professionalism deals with what we should do” (Louisiana State Bar Association, n. d. para. 3).

Maintaining Ethical Standards for Authors

 “While some pressure to publish is healthy for the field, university reputations, and scholarly productivity, it can produce breaches of ethical behavior that, in turn, reduce the legitimacy of scientific endeavors in society” (Clair, 2015, p.169). Unethical research authors present or publish findings that are fraudulent or obtained through unethical research practices.  This misconduct includes misrepresentation of research data, plagiarism, and faked data (Cossette, 2004).  There are also violations related to researchers not receiving IRB approval prior to data collection and issues related to ethical data collection practices.  Numerous examples exist; for example, the Office of Research Integrity website maintains a current listing of disgraced researchers and their case summaries (ORI, n. d.).  These individuals were all promising scholars whose fraudulent behavior impacted their current and future career endeavors, as well as affected perceptions of their personal integrity.

Ethical Peer Reviews from Journal Editors

Ethical violations extend beyond authors’ misconduct.  Journal article editors may also be guilty of ethical violations during the peer review process (Council of Science Editors, 2012).  As part of a sting operation to uncover deception in publishing, Bohannon (2013) submitted 304 versions of a fictitious research article to open access journals.  He used false names and fabricated author credentials, including the names of the authors’ university affiliations.  Journal editors from 70% of the publications accepted the article and requested only superficial revisions.  The bogus paper was not submitted solely to what are considered predatory journals. Similar to other industries, journal publishers face extreme competition.  Editors are eager for innovative research studies that increase readership and influence impact factors which sometimes results in bypassing the necessary rigorous procedures required in the peer review process (Wenning, Burton, Ward, & Lynch, 2014).  Editors who do not engage in due diligence during the review process may ignore reviewer concerns or accept poor quality reviews.

Standards for Peer Review

“Honesty and trustworthiness in the research process, scientific appropriateness and rigour, as well as adherence to all related regulations including data handling and publication ethics are mandatory, as is the appropriate use of the research findings” (Mak, 201, p. 1).  Procedural guidelines remain the key to upholding these ethical standards.  The Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative provides researchers and other interested parties with training, tools, and resources related to regulations and integrity within the research processes (CITI, n. d.).  COPE, or the Committee on Publication Ethics (2017) maintains a code of conduct for editors and publishers of peer reviewed journals to promote research publication integrity.  These are just two examples of several available resources for authors and editors.  Researcher authors should explore numerous resources dealing with ethical standards within their field to avoid any violations or misconduct.

Conclusion

This brief overview captures a few key points to ponder and offers opportunities to delve deeper into this sensitive topic.  Creating a sustainable publishing culture within the scholarly community that upholds ethical behavior and integrity requires awareness, education, and commitment.  Despite the challenges, resources exist that provide clear standards and practical guidelines to assist researchers and editors to uphold their ethical commitments.  What ethical behaviors do you follow?  What tips can you share to help other researcher authors avoid engaging in unprofessional or unethical behavior?

References

Bohannon, J. (2013, October). Who’s afraid of peer review? Science, 342(6154), 60-65. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6154/60.full

Clair, J. A. (2015). Procedural injustice in the system of peer review and scientific misconduct. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 14(2), 159-172. DOI: 0.5465/amle.2013.0243.

Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative. (n. d. ). Mission and history. Retrieved from https://about.citiprogram.org/en/mission-and-history/

Committee on Publication Ethics. (2017). Code of conduct. Retrieved from https://publicationethics.org/resources/code-conduct

Cossette, P. (2004, February). Research integrity: An exploratory survey of administrative science faculties. Journal of Business Ethics 49(3), 213–34. DOI: 10.1023/B:BUSI.0000017967.83925.63

Council of Science Editors. (2012). White paper on promoting integrity in scientific journal publications. Retrieved from http://cseditors.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/entire_whitepaper.pdf. Accessed 5/5/2017.

Louisiana State Bar Association. (n. d.). Difference between professionalism and ethics. Retrieved from https://www.lsba.org/Members/ProfessionalismEthicsDifference.aspx

Mak, J. W. (2016). Research integrity. E-Journal of Science, Medicine, and Education, 10(3), 1-3.

Office of Research Integrity. (n. d.). Case summaries. Retrieved from https://ori.hhs.gov/case_summary

Wenning, R. J., Burton, G. A., Ward, H., & Lynch, J. (2014). The importance of scientific peer review at SETAC. Environmental Technology and Chemistry, 33(1), 2-3. DOI: 10.1002/etc.2449.