Examining the effect of incentives in the research system on research integrity

Examining the effect of incentives in the research system on research integrity

4 September 2019

Research England, on behalf of UKRI, has recently commissioned a study to examine how the incentives and pressures in the research system affect researcher behaviour and, in turn, how these affect research integrity.

The study builds on a recommendation of the 2018 inquiry on Research Integrity by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. The Committee recognised that research in the UK has deserved reputation for quality and the vast majority of research is of high integrity. What was highlighted, however, is that there is still work to be done to understand how the sector can best support research integrity.

Research integrity, broadly the conducting of research in a way that ensures that it is trustworthy, ethical and abides by professional standards, is vital to ensure the accuracy of the results and conclusions of research.

Evidence suggests that cases of outright fraud and falsification are rare; partly explaining why they attract much attention when they do occur. There are, however, a number of ways in which the integrity of the research record can be compromised. These range from so-called ‘questionable research practices’, a group of unhealthy practices that lead to poor research design, execution and reporting, to simple error.

As a funder, UKRI has an interest to ensure that the research we fund is of the utmost integrity. It is  central to maintaining trust in the research system for researchers, funders and the public alike. This isn’t just a case of correcting the research record or intervening when there are transgressions. It is also about incentivising best practice and ensuring that poor practice is not being inadvertently encouraged.

Researchers don’t work in a bubble. They will have intrinsic, personal motivations, but there are also external factors that will influence the way in which they work. Their disciplinary norms, the culture in their department, and the policies of funders, institutions and publishers will all shape how they behave.

Led by Vitae, an independent research agency, the commissioned study seeks to understand the motivations, pressures and drivers that influence researcher behaviour and, in turn, what effect these have on research integrity. The study includes a review of the literature, workshops and a survey of the academic population. The survey will be going live in the autumn.

This forms part of a suite of work that is being carried out by UKRI, and across the sector more broadly, to support research integrity. Each component of this work has a different focus, but taken together will strengthen and protect research integrity in the UK.