How various Stakeholders in the Peer Review process can support Research Integrity
Research integrity is defined as the use of honest and verifiable methods in proposing, performing and evaluating research. It involves reporting and applying research results with particular attention to rules, regulations, guidelines and following commonly accepted professional codes. Research integrity ensures objectivity, clarity and reproducibility, all of which provide insulation from bias, fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, inappropriate financial influence, political interference and censorship.
Importance of research integrity in peer review
Although the peer review process has limitations and flaws, it remains the single-most important mechanism for evaluating scientific research. An essential component to research integrity is integrity in the peer review process.
In the last 45 years, multiple organisations, professional societies and publishing groups have established policies that ensure integrity in the peer review process. These include:
- Council of Publication Ethics (COPE)
- International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)
- World Association of Medical Editors (WAME)
Such is the importance of the topic that in 2016, Research Integrity and Peer Review, an international, peer-reviewed journal was launched, which focuses on problems in peer review, replication and the scientific process.
Authors, reviewers and editors all contribute to research and peer review integrity.
How authors can support peer review integrity
Integrity in the peer review process begins with the authors of the reported research. Authors are obliged to conduct and present research ethically.
While researching and writing, authors must avoid the following forms of misconduct:
- Fabrication: Making up data or results and including these in the research record
- Falsification: Manipulating research processes, equipment or materials, or changing or omitting data or results, with the result that the research record finally obtained is not an accurate representation of the actual research conducted
- Plagiarism: Claiming the processes, records, results, words or ideas of other people without giving appropriate credit
At the time of submission, authors must take care of the following:
- Authors should indicate all sources of financial support for their research and indicate whenever they have a financial interest in their research.
- Occasionally, authors suggest potential reviewers for their submissions (especially when the research topic is novel, obscure or highly specialised). In such instances, authors need to consult with the journal editor for guidance.
How peer reviewers can support research integrity
Peer reviewers are the ‘workhorses’ of the peer review process. Reviewers have many responsibilities, which go a long way in ensuring research integrity:
- Competence: Peer reviewers should know their abilities and limits. When a reviewer realises they have insufficient expertise (or time) to competently conduct a review, they must notify the editor and recuse themselves from the review.
- Declaration of financial interests: Not all financial interests will disqualify a reviewer, but many will. Reviewers need to consult with their editor to determine if a financial conflict of interest (CoI) will disqualify them.
- Confidentiality: Confidentiality is a hallmark of the peer review process. Under no circumstances should any reviewer discuss manuscripts that they are reviewing with anyone outside the specified review process.
- Exclusion of personal or professional bias: Reviewer comments and conclusions should be fact-based, avoiding (or minimising) real or perceived personal or professional bias on the reviewer’s part. (If interested, learn more about bias during peer review here.)
- Constructive criticism: Dispassionate, descriptive comments and assessment of a manuscript is essential to peer review integrity. The process not only evaluates a submission but also provides clear ideas on how to improve, correct or enhance it.
- Timely response: Reviewers must complete their reviews within the time frame specified by the editors.
How journal editors can support research integrity
Editors ‘run the show’ of the peer review process and have important roles in the process:
- Governing the balance between the needs and scope of the journal with those of the authors, reviewers and the academic specialty as a whole
- Ensuring fairness in the review process
- Resolving any CoIs, bias or allegations of misconduct amongst authors, reviewers and other research stakeholders (If interested, learn about how journals handle scientific misconduct by authors here.)
- Making fair acceptance and rejection decisions
The peer review process is an essential component in ensuring integrity in scientific research. When combined with established procedures for conducting research and, more generally, interpreting the results of scientific endeavours, it helps to reinforce the integrity of scientific reporting.
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