Posted on : November 15th 2022
Making the data supporting a scientific truth claim available for peer review and post-publication study is a crucial component of scientific publishing as it enables method and reasoning to be confirmed or refuted, conclusions to be examined, and any observations or experiments to be duplicated. This approach serves as the cornerstone for the "self-correction of science," which in turn serves as a pillar of the integrity that supports the public's value of science and, ultimately, their confidence in it.
Plagiarism, intentional fraud, and other forms of academic dishonesty, such as improper data collection and analysis, can all compromise the integrity of science. The onus of responsibility for such violations rests squarely with the researchers. The publishing process, however, can be crucial in identifying their potential occurrence and serving as a strong deterrent.
Research misconduct refers to any action involving the purposeful manipulation of scientific documentation to the point where it no longer reflects the actual truth. In contrast to once honest and unintentional flaws, these are now more prevalent than ever and, most frequently, purposeful.
Although even simple errors can lead to research integrity issues, cases are now becoming increasingly complex across the publishing landscape. Fabricated peer review has been reported in several cases involving large-scale manipulations of the publication process. To avoid having their manuscripts reviewed by impartial peers, unethical researchers may submit names and email addresses of reviewers they know will send the article back to them or their associates for peer review.
Due to the ease with which sophisticated image processors can be accessed, dishonest researchers frequently resort to unethical means of manipulating images. For the sake of readability, it is acceptable for authors to "clean up" images, but failing to disclose that the images have been modified could be considered an intentional attempt to mislead.
Researchers are under pressure to drastically increase their publication output in order to keep up with the increasingly competitive academic landscape and increase their chances of securing appointments, promotions, grants, awards, and even tenure ship. With bibliometric measures becoming the norm for determining academic advancement, and the quantity of publications taking precedence over the quality of publications, authors resort to salami slicing (also known as redundant publication), which involves publishing many very similar manuscripts based on the same experiment, solely to increase the number of publications on their list.
Further, as defined by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), there is a conflict of interest when an author, reviewer, or editor has a financial or personal stake in the outcome of a publication decision. Relationships, allegiances, or hostilities to particular groups, organizations, or interests may compromise the objectivity of the research or its evaluation. Although having competing interests is not necessarily unethical, failing to disclose them is. When such conflicts of interest are discovered after the publication of a manuscript, the reader may feel deceived or misled.
Maintaining the integrity of the published literature is primarily the responsibility of publishers and journal editors. As the number of research submissions increases, journals are under increasing pressure to clear their backlog quickly. They are frequently caught between reducing submission-to-decision times, identifying manuscripts suitable for publication, maximizing the journal's impact factor, and increasing revenue. Such circumstances may lead editors to make poor peer reviewer selections or fail to verify selected reviewers, leaving the journal susceptible to peer review manipulation.
In order to better meet deadlines and maintain review quality, it is highly beneficial to establish a pool of qualified peer reviewers who are either personally known to the editors or are well-known in the scientific community. Journals should not compromise their standards for peer review of submitted articles based on short-term financial or staffing concerns. Instead, they should think about the long-term effects of publishing subpar research.
Publishers can improve the peer review process by using online peer review platforms that offer additional protection against manipulation. Several of these platforms permit the inclusion of a ‘deep link’ in an email invitation to review content.
It is imperative that publishers and editors collaborate in order to provide their editorial board members and reviewers with satisfying working environments. Discussion and sharing of information will foster growth in these editorial relationships, all of which will contribute to the advancement of science.
Since the 18th century, peer review has served as the ultimate gatekeeper for scientific communities by uniting scientists in close proximity to journals through communities of shared interest. The peer-review process has been subjected to critical feedback from all stakeholders and, as a result, has matured over the years. It continues to be the preferred method for ensuring the credibility and quality of publications in the scientific community.
An uptick in allegations of misconduct is concerning, but it's encouraging to see the community rallying to address the problem. This demonstrates how scholarly publishing, with its peer-review model, continues to be the gold standard for communicating credible scientific findings to the public.
Download our Whitepaper to learn more about how authors, editors, and publishers can collaborate to address academic misconduct.
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