Research integrity in the open era

Open science has emerged on the global research agenda so quickly, that the research integrity guidelines haven’t been able to keep up to speed. Many of the principles are of course so general, that they apply to all fields and types of research. But there are many practical issues that need to be addressed. Below are a few of my thoughts on them. Many of the ideas came to me when listening the presentations at this years Ethics day in Helsinki a few weeks ago, organized jointly by the Finnish ethical advisory boards.

  • How to recognise and deal with predatory journals and open washing
    Some of the predatory journals are so blatantly obvious that there is no chance of mistaking them for the real deal, but then there are more professional seeming ones. Especially younger researchers might struggle to make the difference and the publish or perish mentality might push some to be less critical. In many Finnish universities dissertations need a certain number of published articles in order to pass, with very little regard given to the quality of the journal. I don’t think there is yet any guidelines in place against publishing in a predatory journal. Of course if you are planning to pursue an academic career publishing in a lousy journal will come back to bite you, but what if all you want is to get the degree?
    Open washing and it’s different manifestations (I’m not sure if predatory journals fall into this category, but I think they are at least related) are still somewhat unfamiliar to me, but as there starts to move more and more funding around open science this type of phenomena is bound to increase. I presume that one antidote could be more awareness and discussion about open licenses.
  • How to give credit to contributors in an open research process (for example when blogging about an ongoing research and getting advice and ideas in comments)
    Samuli Ollila, about whom I blogged earlier here, has decided to give co-authorship to anyone who a) comments on his blog and b) feels himself/herself having contributed significantly enough to deserve a mention in the list of authors. In this case the number of commentators is reasonable (around fifteen, I think), but what if the number rises to, say, hundreds?
  • What if openly published research / data needs to be retracted?
    We all know internet is reluctant to forget, so how should it be done?
  • Dual use research: at what stage does the ethical evaluation step in?
    Researchers aren’t often aware of dual use possibilities in their own research so they don’t always understand the need to seek ethical pre-evaluation.
  • How to handle negative and aggressive discussions and reactions that a politically charged research could give rise to during an open research process?
    It is crazy what kind of things arouse net rage. The Finnish examples from the above mentioned Ethics day were for example the cultural history of the word “neekeri” (use Google translate if you don’t get it), the history of Finland in the II World War and the wolf population in Finland. The research community should more actively show loyalty when colleagues are under attack on online forums, media, etc. The case of the political cartoonists is an analogous one.
  • Open science as one answer to the problem of publication bias
    Open science can actually be an answer to some previous problems regarding the integrity of research. The need to also publish negative results is well recognized and part of the ideology of openness. I wonder if it could be argued that openness is actually a prerequisite for good and ethical science? The Finnish National Advisory Board on Research Ethics states in it’s guidelines that a researcher should act according to the principle of openness, which is part of the nature of scientific endeavor, as well as to the principle of responsible science communication when publishing research outcomes (”toteuttaa tieteellisen tiedon luonteeseen kuuluvaa avoimuutta ja vastuullista tiedeviestintää tutkimuksen tuloksia julkaistessaan”).

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