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Finding Solutions to the Lack of Integrity in Research

Evidence Live 2018 Research and Integrity session Monday June 18th will discuss the answers to the growing lack of just that!
Carl Heneghan sets out some of the important issues.

What defines a problem is a difference between what’s happening and what you would like to be happening. For the research integrity problem, I can tell you a lot about what is happening: competing interests in research, increased global competition and academic pressures are undermining the integrity of science. [1, 2]

A small proportion of scientists admit to the fabricating, falsifying or modifying data or results. But an awful lot more regularly acknowledge questionable research practices that include data mining for statistically significant effects, selective reporting of outcomes, switching outcomes, publication bias, protocol deviations and concealing conflicts of interest.[3] A 2012 survey of 9,036 BMJ authors and reviewers showed that of the 2,782 (31%) who replied, 13% had witnessed or had first-hand knowledge of UK based scientists or doctors inappropriately adjusting, altering or fabricating data during their research or for publication. [4]

Such financial and non-financial conflicts of interests are a widespread phenomenon amongst academics and academic institutions. Conflicted researchers are common (one in four investigators have been found to have industry ties) and associate with pro-industry conclusions, withholding of results and lack of data sharing. They also overtly influence guidelines and latterly have infiltrated patient advocacy organisations. [5, 6]

What are the solutions to deter questionable research practice and promote research integrity? David Goodstein review tells us that three motives are ever present when it comes to fraud: individuals were a) under career pressure; b) thought they knew what the result would be if they went to all the trouble of doing the work correctly; and c) was in a field in which studies are not expected to be precisely reproducible.  [7, 8]

Also, the “publish or perish,” model of research creates career pressure and institutional pressure that promotes shortcuts and sloppy, flawed research. The current system is increasingly contributing to this problem. [9]

What are the solutions to deter questionable research practice and promote research integrity? My top three measures to mitigate questionable research practices should consider: a central open-access database for all financial and non-financial conflicts of interest; a system to address the perverse research incentives that act as barriers to reproducibility and replicability and strengthen of the post-marketing surveillance of drugs to solve the problem of underreporting of harms

I’m looking to the debate at Evidence Live to provide more practical measures that can drive integrity in research and promote the production of high quality evidence that matters to patient care.

Carl Heneghan is Professor of EBM at the University of Oxford, Director of CEBM and Editor in Chief of BMJ EBM

If you want to join the mandate to prioritise and carry out the solutions to the deluge of poor quality evidence and promote research integrity  then why not join us at Evidence Live 2018?


  1. Alliance, T., Treatment Action Group Issues Global Tuberculosis Research & Development Update. 2010.
  2. Martinson, B.C., M.S. Anderson, and R. de Vries, Scientists behaving badly. Nature, 2005. 435(7043): p. 737-8.
  3. Nippert, I., B. Edler, and C. Schmidt-Herterich, 40 years later: the health related quality of life of women affected by thalidomide. Community Genet, 2002. 5(4): p. 209-16.

4 ICJME, Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals:

  1. Norris, S.L., et al., Conflict of interest in clinical practice guideline development: a systematic review. PLoS One, 2011. 6(10): p. e25153.
  2. Lundh, A., et al., Conflicts of interest at medical journals: the influence of industry-supported randomised trials on journal impact factors and revenue – cohort study. PLoS Med, 2010. 7(10): p. E1000354.
  3. Ghostwriting Revisited: New Perspectives but Few Solutions in Sight. PLoS Med, 2011. 8(8).
  4. SINGER, D.W.a.N., Ghostwriting Is Called Rife in Medical Journals New York Times 2009. Accessed at:
  5. Publish or Perish: What are its Consequences? – Enago Academy. Enago Academy. 2015. (accessed 8 Mar2017).

2017 Highlights