In a recent example, the US research community is reeling after the forced resignations of three high-profile scientists in just 10 days over damning revelations that include conflict of interest, extracting results to garner positive press and plagiarism. While these cases may be at the extreme end of the research misconduct spectrum, UTS Research Integrity and Research Programs manager Louise Wheeler says it highlights the importance of research leaders being advocates for integrity.

Building a culture of excellence

“If you are not guiding and mentoring junior staff about research integrity you are not building a culture of excellence, Wheeler says. “And that then opens the door to questionable research practices taking place.” Wheeler says serious breaches such as those recently exposed in the US are rare. However researchers could find themselves on a “slippery slope” around issues such as authorship, plagiarism, poor study design, failing to report misconduct and selective reporting of results. Wheeler, who has worked in the field since 2003, says many researchers are unaware that their practices cross the threshold of inappropriate research conduct.

“They have developed bad habits over time and have stopped recognising their practices as being sloppy or unethical,” she says. Wheeler says UTS has a team of “integrity champions” – five senior researchers who can give advice to staff around these issues. As part of the RESHub program, Wheeler will present on Monday, 8 October from 1.30pm about how research leaders can establish a strong integrity culture.

Wheeler says that being proactive in this space can help address issues before they happen and build the overall quality of research..
She says breaching integrity principles can have major implications for researchers and even seemingly minor infractions can have consequences, as the university is compelled to alert the NHMRC and ARC to any issues involving grant recipients.

Wheeler is passionate about informing the UTS community about what these breaches look like and how to improve the culture that they are borne out of. “By building awareness of research integrity principles, we can build trust and confidence in the quality of research across UTS,” she says.

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