“Ethical issues (eg, failure to obtain informed consent, failure to obtain appropriate approval from an institutional review board, and mistreatment of research participants), issues involving authorship responsibilities and disputes, duplicate publication, and failure to report conflicts of interest.
The misconduct and fraudulent scientific research are a matter of concern of bioethicists, researchers and the same scientific journals. In this respect, an article published in BMJ entitled “Frauds in scientific research and how to possibly overcome them” (October 6, 2020) says “Frauds and misconduct have been common in the history of science. Recent events connected to the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted how the risks and consequences of this are no longer acceptable. Two papers, addressing the treatment of COVID-19, have been published in two of the most prestigious medical journals; the authors declared to have analyzed electronic health records from a private corporation, which apparently collected data of tens of thousands of patients, coming from hundreds of hospitals. Both papers have been retracted (for malpractice in obtaining data) a few weeks later.” (read HERE our article). In the authors’ opinion, “When such events happen, the confidence of the population in scientific research is likely to be weakened.” the article ends, “Having shed light on the dangers of a system without appropriate monitoring, the proposed analysis suggests to strengthen the existing journal policies and improve the research process using new technologies supporting control activities by public authorities.” (read more HERE and our related article: Frauds at the highest level of scientific research)
Current scientific studies ethics: an urgent call
More recently a study was published in Ethics Med Public Health. ( May 6, 2021) with the title “COVID-19: The urgent call for academic research in research ethics”, we excerpt what is more interesting for reasons of space, “Among the issues most central to this questioning of the scientific community are the crisis of reproducibility, the question of conflicts of interest and that of predatory journals – all of which are linked by the latent question of the evaluation of scientists. These issues were brought to light and even amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of a scientific mediation that had never been anticipated and that led to a loss of confidence in scientists by politicians and citizens.” The authors end by suggesting “rebuilding the scientific ecosystem and develop university research ethics to foster a climate of scientific integrity”.
In this respect, a large survey between german doctors has been published in Science (July 16, 2021) says “More than half of Dutch scientists regularly engage in questionable research practices, according to new study results that are likely to apply to other countries. And one in 12 admitted to committing a more serious form of research misconduct within the past 3 years: fabrication or falsification of research results. At 8%, that is more than double the rate reported in previous studies. The Dutch National Survey on Research Integrity, the largest of its kind to date, took special precautions to guarantee the anonymity of respondents, so its organizers believe the results are more accurate than previous surveys.”
Following we excerpt an editorial of JAMA that, in our opinion, gives an overview of the scientific ecosystem, its magnitude, and the responsibility of scientific journals and institutions.
JAMA approach to scientific studies ethics
A JAMA editor article titled Scientific Misconduct and Medical Journals focus on scientific malpractice involving fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism in the reporting of research and clearly define this practice, According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “Research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.” The article enumerates some ethical issues “Other important irregularities involving the biomedical research process include, but are not limited to, ethical issues (eg, failure to obtain informed consent, failure to obtain appropriate approval from an institutional review board, and mistreatment of research participants), issues involving authorship responsibilities and disputes, duplicate publication, and failure to report conflicts of interest. When authors are found to have been involved with research misconduct or other serious irregularities involving articles that have been published in scientific journals, editors have a responsibility to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the scientific record.”
The article continues to say that not much is known about the prevalence of scientific misconduct, “several studies with limited methods have estimated that the prevalence of scientists who have been involved in scientific misconduct ranges from 1% to 2%. During the last 5 years, JAMA and the JAMA Network journals have published 12 notices of Retraction about 15 articles (including recent Retractions of 6 articles by the same author)7 and 6 notices of Expression of Concern about 9 articles. These notices were published primarily because the original studies were found to involve fabrication or falsification of data that invalidated the research and the published articles; in some cases, postpublication investigations could not provide evidence that the original research was valid.” Read the full article JAMA Editorial, November 20, 2018).
Our bioethical opinion
We agree with the conclusion of the study of Ethics Med Public Health, we quote above, suggesting the need to “[…] rebuilding the scientific ecosystem and develop university research ethics to foster a climate of scientific integrity”. In our opinion, it does not seem possible that this type of deviation can be mitigated if it is not through the necessary ethical training that all researchers should receive in their preparation before exercising as such, this seems like the true path to honesty in scientific work.