How we can improve research integrity, research quality and peer review

Research TO DO list: How can we improve the quality of peer review and research

For Peer review week 2019 Sense about Science have asked for a series of blogposts , to begin a Research ‘TO DO’ list. What can researchers, universities, funders and governments do to improve the quality of peer review and research? This is just the start, we need your ideas too.

Imagine a world where society has the high-quality evidence it needs to make informed
decisions about crime, health and education.  What action can researchers, universities, funders and governments take to get us there?

By Ana Marusic, Editor, Journal of Global Health; Professor at School of Medicine, University of Split, Croatia @ana_marusic Media wiki for research integrity: @EmbassySci

Peer review is an important part of the research process as a quality check for the validity, completeness and honesty of the performed research.

Peer review is something that is rarely taught, although research shows that the best reviewers are young academics. Embedding training in responsible peer review and research in general is thus a good way to develop conscientious researchers, to prevent research misconduct and reduce waste in research.

We also need to know more about peer review, in order to understand how it works and how it leads to good decision making in research. It is surprising that the evidence base we have about such an important part of the research process is weak. We actually have little high-quality evidence of whether and how peer review improves research.

Finally, journal editors have a special responsibility for the integrity of peer review. The current evidence shows that journal editors are not as transparent about their own and their journal’s conflicts of interest, as they require from their authors and reviewers. They need to declare, regularly update and manage their own conflicts to ensure the integrity of what they publish.  

1. Universities TO DO: Teach responsible research from early stages of professional development.

Just as clinical skills need to be taught early in order that students learn how to adopt them in practice (Glasziou et al, 2011) research integrity needs to become a part of professional training to ensure that students grow into responsible researchers.

2. Governments TO DO: Shape research integrity policies together with the research community and the public

It seems that policy makers and researchers do not have a shared understanding of what constitutes  research integrity (Horbach & Halffman 2016). Researchers see integrity as a virtue, closely related to ethics, whereas policy makers see it as a norm, and as the opposite of research misconduct. They need to come together and establish an open dialogue about how to best increase the quality and integrity of research.

3. Funders TO DO: Open up journal and grant peer review for researchers for more methodologically rigorous studies

The research on peer review is fragmented and examined only in small scale studies (Grimaldo et al. 2018). There is a need for more comprehensive and methodologically rigorous research into peer review, so that we can understand it better and use it more wisely. PEERE  (New Frontiers of Peer Review) is an example of trans-disciplinary and cross-sectorial collaboration in innovative peer review research. 

4. Journal editors TO DO: Follow for yourself the same standards in declaring competing interests you ask from authors and reviewers

We now have evidence that journal editors in medicine are often burdened by financial conflict of interest (Liu et al. 2017), but they do not declare it clearly to the public (Dal-Re et al. 2019). As all journals require their authors and reviewers to declare their competing interests, the same level of transparency must be expected from journal editors, so that they can take full responsibility of the integrity of the published record.

5. Industry TO DO: Engage in dialogue with academic and research community about responsible conduct of research

Like other stakeholders, research in academia and in the industry have different views of what constitutes research integrity (Godecharle et al. 2018). We have to be aware of the differences and specificities of different research environments and harmonize expectations about responsible research.

6. Researchers TO DO: Stay true to the principles of good research: honesty, respect, reliability and accountability

European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity defined four principles to guide researchers in addressing challenges in research: reliability to ensure the quality of research, honesty in doing and presenting research, respect for all involved in research, and accountability for what they do. Researchers should follow the development of science and new expectations from them about the integrity and quality of research.

We extend our thanks to David Tovey @DavidTovey for his work editing these blogposts.

Please tweet your ideas #ResearchTODOlist #PeerRevWk19 and #QualityInPeerReview or email us at  

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