A researcher’s perspective on research integrity

Maverick continues its series on Research Integrity with a post by Senior Associate Gareth Dyke that examines the importance of communication between publishers and researchers in preventing unintentional research integrity issues.

The case of the Russian fossil brain

Issues in research integrity have always been problematic for publishers. Of course, nobody wants to publish a correction to a peer-reviewed article or worse, issue a retraction.

I reckon, however, that the vast majority of research integrity problems happen essentially by accident, although I am not saying there aren’t some ‘bad apples’. Researchers are driven by academic culture to cut corners (publish as many papers as possible, as quickly as possible) or are simply unaware that what they are doing – or about to do – is ethically unacceptable. Here’s a story about something that happened to me back in 2007, when I was even younger than I am now.

I was working in Moscow at the Paleontological Institute with a long-time colleague. We’d been doing research projects together for a number of years on fossil birds and certain kinds of dinosaurs. He showed me a unique fossil – part of what we thought at the time was the inside of a skull. We wrote up a nice little paper, it got peer-reviewed, and eventually published it in an international journal, a very nice outcome.

However, what my collaborator had not told me at the time was that he had another paper also coming out on the same fossil in Russian using some of the same figures. The Russian language paper ended up coming out before our English article and was then also published in English in the same journal series (what’s referred to as a ‘mirror journal’ where articles are published first in an original language and then re-published in English).

The research integrity issue here was the apparent re-use of figures without citation of their ‘original’ source (in this case the first-to-appear Russian article). I had simply been unaware of the first article’s track to publication. I could have received a ban from the international publisher of (what turned out to be) our second English paper for reusing the same figures without adequate citation.

Unintentional, but still naughty and a potential ethical breach. But it illustrates my point that, without training, mentoring, and cross-cultural/language communication between publishers and researchers, these kinds of issues can happen because the researcher may not be aware that they are duplicating someone else’s work. Integrity issues for researchers can have disastrous effects on careers influencing promotions, grant funding, and global reputation. This particular situation served to raise my awareness of how research integrity can unwittingly be compromised and to be alert to clues in the future.

Maverick offers a program of research integrity services, including training, to help publishers achieve and maintain best practices. It helps publishers operationalize research integrity to ensure safeguards are integrated throughout the workflow, from manuscript submission and peer review to publication and data management. For a free consultation, contact your Maverick representative or email info@maverick-os.com.

By Gareth Dyke
Senior Associate

Dr Gareth Dyke is a prolific scientific author, researcher, content creator, and journal manager who has published more than 320 peer-reviewed articles, as well as numerous other pieces (Scientific American) and books. Gareth has worked for more than 18 years as an Editor-in-Chief at the Taylor & Francis journal Historical Biology. Gareth has a Ph.D. in geology and biology from the University of Bristol, worked as a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and was an Associate Professor at University College Dublin (Ireland) and at the University of Southampton (UK). He is an active teacher and researcher affiliated with universities in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Kazakhstan, and China.

Further Reading

When good intentions drive bad behavior

Image manipulation – we can tell when you’re faking it.

Answer These Five Questions to Ensure an Effective Research Integrity Strategy

Download Maverick’s Research Integrity service sheet