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Good practices

Exact definitions of scientific misconduct

009_BoasPraticas_204DANIEL BUENOAfter evaluating hundreds of publications, a group of researchers from the University of Barcelona, ​​Spain, and the University of Split School of Medicine, in Croatia, found that standardization of good academic practices is hampered by the absence of policies that explicitly define the types of misconduct in science, and what procedures must be adopted.

The article, published in the December 2012 issue of PLoS ONE, analyzed 399 journals worldwide with a high impact in the field of biomedicine, indexed by Journal Citation Reports in December, 2011.
The authors studied the prevalence and content of good practice policies, analyzing procedures adopted in cases of data manipulation and allegations of misconduct. Although publications in the field of biomedicine have taken the lead in formulating editorial policies, there is little evidence that indicates which policies are oriented towards prevention of research misconduct and which are publicly available.

Of the 399 journals studied, 140 provided explicit definitions of misconduct in research. Falsification was directly mentioned by 113 publications; fabricating data by 104; plagiarism by 224; duplication by 242, and image manipulation by 154. The predominance of many types of policies to reinforce good practices was highest in journals that endorsed any policy established by publishers, associations, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (responsible, among other tasks, for the prevention of misconduct in scientific practice) or scientific associations.

The publishers Elsevier and Wiley-Blackwell published a large percentage of the journals included in the survey: 22.6% and 14.8%, respectively. In the Wiley publications, clear definitions of falsification and fabrication of data were stressed, while in Elsevier journals, references to plagiarism checking services were emphasized.

The authors concluded that only a third of the major publications have publicly available definitions of misconduct, and less than half describe procedures that should be adopted in cases of allegations of information manipulation. As a way to encourage the formulation of international policies by entities involved in the implementation of procedures, the study suggests that journals and their publishers regulate and publish their policies in order to increase confidence in the journals. This would also ensure increased levels of transparency in academia.