Ranking major and minor research misbehaviors: results from a survey among participants of four World Conferences on Research Integrity
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Background: Codes of conduct mainly focus on research misconduct that takes the form of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. However, at the aggregate level, lesser forms of research misbehavior may be more important due to their much higher prevalence. Little is known about what the most frequent research misbehaviors are and what their impact is if they occur. Methods: A survey was conducted among 1353 attendees of international research integrity conferences. They were asked to score 60 research misbehaviors according to their views on and perceptions of the frequency of occurrence, preventability, impact on truth (validity), and impact on trust between scientists on 5-point scales. We expressed the aggregate level impact as the product of frequency scores and truth, trust and preventability scores, respectively. We ranked misbehaviors based on mean scores. Additionally, relevant demographic and professional background information was collected from participants. Results: Response was 17% of those who were sent the invitational email and 33% of those who opened it. The rankings suggest that selective reporting, selective citing, and flaws in quality assurance and mentoring are viewed as the major problems of modern research. The "deadly sins" of fabrication and falsification ranked highest on the impact on truth but low to moderate on aggregate level impact on truth, due to their low estimated frequency. Plagiarism is thought to be common but to have little impact on truth although it ranked high on aggregate level impact on trust. Conclusions: We designed a comprehensive list of 60 major and minor research misbehaviors. Our respondents were much more concerned over sloppy science than about scientific fraud (FFP). In the fostering of responsible conduct of research, we recommend to develop interventions that actively discourage the high ranking misbehaviors from our study.
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