UK universities urged to probe malpractice, fraud in research projects
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report looked at what is known about problems arising from errors, questionable practices, and fraud in university research, and what can be done to ensure that problems are handled appropriately.
MP Norman Lamb, who is chair of the committee, said: "While most universities publish an annual report on research integrity, six years from signing a Concordat which recommends doing so it is not yet consistent across the sector. It's not a good look for the research community to be dragging its heels on this, particularly given research fraud can quite literally become a matter of life and death."
Lamb said research can help tackle some of the world's great challenges, including disease, climate change and global inequality, adding: "The UK is a world leader in research, and our universities are at the forefront of the many of the world's great scientific breakthroughs. The importance of public confidence in research can't be overstated."
As part of its inquiry, the committee wrote to 136 British universities to ask them whether they publish information on the number of misconduct investigations undertaken each year.
The committee's report found that despite a commitment in the 2012 Concordat to Support Research Integrity, a quarter of universities are not producing an annual report on research integrity.
"This lack of consistent transparency in reporting data on the number of misconduct investigations, and inconsistency in the way the information is recorded, means it is difficult to calculate the scale of research misconduct in the UK," said the report.
It added there has been a lack of co-ordinated leadership in implementing the Concordat's recommendations in universities.
Lamb said what is needed is an approach to transparency which recognises that error, poor uses of statistics and even fraud are possible in any human endeavour, and a clear demonstration that universities look for problems and tackle them when they arise.
The committee has recommended that a tightened Concordat on Research Integrity should be produced, with a timetable to reach 100 percent compliance. It wants the government to establish a national Research Integrity Committee to provide a means of verifying that university investigations into research misconduct are handled appropriately.
Lamb added: "Unless we address this, there is a risk that there could be a knee-jerk reaction towards inappropriate regulation in response to the next big research misconduct scandal." ■