New platform for bad news

Neuroscientist Simon Gandevia has established Retractions Australia, drawing on the global Retraction Watch database of research papers pulled by publishers.

There are certainly cases to cover. The RW database records 50 or so papers involving researchers at Australian institutions from 2020 to this month – the figure for comparable Canada is similar.

Professor Gandevia is deputy director of Neuroscience Research Australia and a long-time campaigner for recording breaches of research integrity. In a 2018 editorial in Nature Spinal Cord he pointed to research flaws in the field, methodological limitations, “poor reliability” of published findings and authors gaming publishing metrics, (“an occupational requirement for scientists, journal staff and university administrators”).

And he warned, “pure self-regulation by the universities in dealing with cases of potential scientific misconduct is doomed to fail.”

QUT’s Adrian Barnett and colleagues found there are 709 research integrity advisors at Australian institutions, some of whom learned of their roles when Professor Barnett’s team contacted them (Campus Morning Mail May 9).

“There were multiple institutions where we found it difficult to find anything about research integrity and other institutions where the contact about research integrity was a generic email or generic on-line form,” they report.

As UNSW’s DVC R Nicholas Fisk points out, “investigating research misconduct is not for the faint-hearted.” Kate Christian (QUT) and colleagues surveyed early career researchers in STEM and medicine to find over half did not believe complaints of unethical research practise would be acted on (FutureCampus June 20).

A system-wide research integrity regulator to make whistleblowing easier, could be a job for the national research funding councils. A review of their existing Australian Research Integrity Committee was originally due in March, but is now said to be due in the second half of the year, although its topics do not specifically address the possibility of a national research integrity office (Campus Morning Mail, March 7).

The challenge for the review, if it chooses to accept it, is what to recommend that will keep advocates of rigorous integrity reviews happy while not alarming universities with the prospect of an independent and intrusive agency.



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