Let us consider here what research integrity and misconduct are, and the approaches that can reduce violations of acceptable practice.

Research integrity can be defined as the firm adherence to a code of high moral values, principles, and professional standards in research. As the African writer Chinua Achebe said, “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.” US Federal policy defines research misconduct as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Honest errors, or differences of opinion, do not constitute research misconduct. The policy states that: (i) research misconduct results from a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; (ii) is committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly; and (iii) is proven by a preponderance of evidence.

What are the standard codes of scholarly conduct and ethical behavior in research? What are the best practices for the conduct of research on a global basis? Research credibility – i.e. scientific believability – is pivotal in both cases.

In reality there are, in different fields of endeavor, some dishonest individuals who engage in fraudulent activities and pursue unacceptable practices to the detriment of scientific advancement. There are also some individuals who are honest but, because of national goals, being in the limelight, peer pressure, or other factors, are tempted to take liberties with results, falsify or fabricate data, plagiarize, etc. For example, at a meeting in which I participated several years ago in Seoul, Korea and was hosted by the President of Korea, a researcher asked, “What do you need to do to get a Nobel Prize?” As someone who travels to Korea regularly and who admires Koreans for their determination, love of education and the arts, I have also witnessed the obsession by Korean society at many levels to secure a Nobel Prize. This is essentially a national goal, and could have served as a licence by a Korean stem cell researcher to engage in profound research misconduct.

In many nations now, there is significant emphasis among the scientific and university elite to publish in top journals and require graduate students to publish at least one paper/year during their graduate program. These pressures, in the former case, can lead researchers to make exaggerated claims to enhance publication prospects and, in the latter, result in unnecessary publications and ‘corner cutting’ in the process.

It is of some concern that, in addition to the findings of research misconduct, the falsification or fabrication of research results may go undetected if the work is of low importance and/or is of marginal interest and, therefore, less likely to be reproduced by others. Major, landmark advances attract attention and are likely to be subject to scrutiny.

It is conceivable that as science evolves and pressure mounts to obtain results, often in unrealistic timeframes, the quality of research will not necessarily improve. The human element is key – key to discoveries, inventions, research integrity, and responsible science practices.

There are two principal strategies to consider with respect to research integrity: (i) the values-based perspective, which includes the spirit, culture, and values of science; and (ii) the compliance-based perspective, which consists of rules and policies including adherence to strict codes. A good way forward would be to operate using an outcome-oriented code – a combination of the best elements of the two approaches. There are a number of potentially desirable components of an outcome-oriented code. For instance, the values-based perspective is characterized by, among other things, flexibility and the conviction that positive outcomes at the workplace can be achieved through the good judgment of participants. Consistency, and the realization that good outcomes at the workplace can be achieved by enforcement, are contributors to the compliance-based approach [Saner, M., Policy Brief No. 20, Institute on Governance (www.iog.ca), 2004]. Nurturing research integrity, while addressing research misconduct, can thus be attained by an outcome-oriented code.

Prevention of misconduct, in terms of the values-based perspective (encouragement), begins with the values instilled in children by their parents at home and by their teachers at school. University academics/administrators have the responsibility to forge alliances with schoolteachers and educators to assure a continuum of best practices from the kindergarten to the completion of graduate studies. Also essential is the development of a strong science culture and the mentorship of researchers in universities, industry, and government laboratories. Rules and structures are key to prevention in a compliance-based perspective (deterrent).

Integrity is a central tenet in research and innovation. The actress Vanessa Redgrave has noted that, “Integrity is so perishable in the summer months of success.” Our goal must be to establish agreed best practices in research integrity to minimize occurrences of research misconduct at any point in the career development of researchers. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to our community. We owe it to our society.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(08)70067-1