Research integrity: emphasising our commitment

Research Ethics
Volume 17 Issue 3, July 2021


Research integrity: emphasising our commitment
Stuart G. Nicholls
First Published July 19, 2021
It is just over a year since the editors of this journal announced a broadening of the remit for submission. In doing so they made an explicit commitment to supporting work that examines research integrity issues. Furthering this commitment, we announce that Dr Edward Dove has joined Research Ethics as Associate Editor, with a focus on overseeing manuscripts that concern research integrity and/or misconduct matters.

As detailed in the previous editorial, research integrity is a counterpart to research ethics. Where research ethics focuses more on research governance at the programme or study level, research integrity takes as its focus the researcher themselves, emphasising the values and virtues of those conducting research. The Canadian Council of Academies research integrity framework, for example, articulates values of honesty, fairness, trust, accountability and openness as being key to research integrity (Davenport et al., 2010). A concrete example of efforts to improve research integrity is seen through the push for Open Science and research reporting guidelines (Glasziou et al., 2014; Nicholls et al., 2016). The use of reporting guidelines to facilitate more transparent and complete publication practices promotes what Masic (2012) calls ‘intellectual honesty’; being straightforward in description of the research process. When reporting guidelines are combined with what O’Neill (2002) has described as the ‘audit agenda’ and the ‘openness agenda’, the completeness and transparency of reporting can be assessed through peer review more easily. This, in turn, promotes trust in research findings and reporting, and ultimately the research process.

Research integrity is at the core of several papers in this issue. For instance, in their study of ethical issues in internet research and research using online data, Stommel and de Rijk examine how ethical issues are reported, and in what ways, as well as the steps that authors take to protect the privacy of the sources of publicly available online data. They note that almost two thirds of the 132 articles they examined did not report ethical considerations yet commonly took steps to anonymise data. Notably, the discussion of ethical issues was highly variable with discrepancies between ethics principles in theory and in practice.

Online platforms also feature in the work of Littler and Joy, although their focus is on the use of social media for research recruitment, specifically within LGBTQ communities. Littler and Joy examine the researcher role as gatekeepers. They reflect on what they have learned from their experience of negative hate speech posted in response to recruitment adverts on social media, and the impact it has on them as researchers. They conclude that it is incumbent upon researchers to become experts in the use and misuse of social media if they are to use these platforms for recruitment in research.

The impact of research on the researchers themselves, is also picked up by Podschuweit, who reports on quantitative covert observational research and the processes they employed to help student researchers deal with their personal discomfort in observing personal interactions. The findings show how mentally stressful covert observations can be for the student observers and suggestions are made for preparing students appropriately.

Finally, Reid et al. report on the development of a toolkit for global researchers designed to help navigate ethical challenges that they face when conducting research. They note that sharing experiences is an all too rare activity that is not generally encouraged within the competitive academic environment. Foundational to their work is the view that research integrity and research ethics matters are ongoing throughout the study, and not just about gaining ethics approval. The authors offer the 4P (place, people, principles and precedent) framework as a guiding structure to assist researchers approach ethical dilemmas that occur outside of the ethics approval process.

We hope that this collection of papers, as well as the other excellent manuscripts included in this issue, inspire readers to continue to examine and publish on matters of research integrity. We look forward to welcoming these at Research Ethics.