photo 3Yesterday, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics launched their report on research culture. The report examines aspects of research culture that are considered to undermine high quality science, according to those who provided input to the project through a survey, discussion meetings and focus groups.

The report also suggests actions for the scientific research community to address these. It is an interesting report and well worth a read, although, admittedly, I was on the Steering Group.

What they heard

My slight bias aside, this report provides a very interesting insight into how the scientific research community view their roles in supporting high quality science, which respondents identified as being rigorous, accurate, original, honest and transparent, as well as requiring collaboration, multidisciplinarity, openness and creativity. But they also identified a number of pressures points within the system:

  • Competition which can bring out the best in people but also create incentives for poor research practice.
  • Funding of research which is increasingly limited, strategically directed and short-term, leading to reduced creativity and innovation.
  • Assessment of research focussed on publications or impact meaning important research remains unpublished.
  • Research integrity being tested as increasing pressures lead respondents to feel tempted to cut corners.
  • Career progression and workload issues with increasing competition for places and heavy workloads leading to loss of creativity and innovation.

Suggested actions

The report concludes that researchers, publishers, editors, funders, research institutions, learned societies and professional bodies all have a role in addressing these adverse pressures. During my involvement in discussion meetings I was struck by how often people saw it as someone else’s responsibility to take action, yet, as the report recommends, a collective and coordinated approach is likely to be the most effective.

The report suggests specific actions for different parts of the research community that would help achieve this, including:

  • Maintaining diverse funding portfolios (Funders)
  • Recognising and rewarding high quality peer review and committee service (Funders, Research Institutions, Publishers)
  • Cultivating environments which support ethical conduct (Research Institutions)
  • Using a broad range of metrics (Publishers)
  • Share work whenever possible in public repositories and sharing datasets (Researchers)
  • Promote the importance of good research culture and high quality science (Learned Societies and Professional bodies)

But it also recognises that ensuring that the scientific research system consistently supports the production of high quality science is not something that can be solved by a single action or a lone organisation.

The system is not completely broken, science works well mostly, but there is an increasing friction slowing down progress (e.g. increasing retraction rates, irreproducibility, incorrect use of impact factors).

The report marks a good starting point for raising the important questions that all parts of the scientific research community need to consider: How can we all do our part? How do we reduce the friction in the system? How do we all support high quality science?