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Good practices

A document in favor of ethics

Daniel Bueno

To try and improve the commitment of researchers from the medical area to good practice in science, the group that represents higher education teaching institutions in the UK, Universities UK (UUK), is preparing a document on the integrity of research. The objective is to promote the integrity of investigation  and make clear the responsibilities of institutions, development organisms and researchers, in addition to supplying examples of good practice. The document is being prepared together with funding agencies and should be ready in April.

Concern grew after a survey by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which was publicized in January during a congress in London, showed that the British scientific community has failed to deal with bad conduct in medical research. The BMJ interviewed 2782 doctors and academics and found that 13% of them indicated that they knew of cases where data had been altered or fabricated deliberately by researchers. A further 6% stated that they knew of bad conduct occurring in their institutions that had not been duly investigated.

According to the journal Nature, participants at the meeting asked for more energetic action to be taken. “This acknowledges that we have a problem,” said Fiona Godlee, chief editor of the BMJ. The question is not a new one for the British. Last year, a British parliamentary science and technology committee concluded that the “integrity of research in the UK is unsatisfactory.” In 2000, The Lancet, another important medical science journal, criticized errors of conduct and regretted that nothing was being done.

The final communiqué from the congress recommended reinforcement of the mechanisms that should guarantee good conduct in research. In the UK, there is no official national body with legal or regulatory powers that deals with ethical problems in research. The closest to this is the UK Integrity Research Office, a private organization that provides consultancy services and guidance on questions relating to research integrity. It is supported by government bodies, development agencies, universities and private institutions involved in research.