What is high quality science? Rigorous, accurate, original, honest, and transparent were the words selected by scientists who took part in the UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics' project to assess the ethical consequences of the culture of research. The project surveyed 970 scientists and held several discussion events in the UK as well as meetings with funding bodies, publishers, editors.
Scientists reported that they were motivated to do research to make discoveries that benefit society and to improve their own knowledge and understanding. However, they raised concerns that their working environment did not support their goals and visions. Worryingly, for some, the culture of research in the UK was such that it even encouraged poor quality research practices, such as rushing to finish and publish research and employing less rigorous research methods. High levels of competition for funding and jobs and promotions were noted as driving factors for these behaviours.
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) results (to be released on Dec 18), which inform allocation of core funding to higher education institutes, were a key issue for those surveyed. Despite a change in format since the last such exercise (eg, REF assessment panels were instructed not to make any use of journal impact factors in assessing the quality of research outputs), REF still causes researchers much anxiety, and misperceptions and mistrust about the system exist. Scientists still think that publishing in high-impact journals is the most important element in determining funding, jobs, and promotions, along with article metrics such as citation numbers.
The Lancet Series on Research: increasing value, reducing waste also noted problems with reward systems—they incentivised quantity more than quality and novelty more than reliability. “Research rewards and integrity: improving systems to promote responsible research” is the theme of the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity (May 31–June 3) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2015. Critical examination of rewards systems is warranted by all those involved in the research enterprise since existing approaches are putting immense pressure on scientists and could be damaging the very practice of science itself.