On 2 May 2014 my former supervisor for my PhD research, Professor Lex M. Bouter, held an inaugural lecture on the occasion of his appointment as Professor of Methodology and Integrity at the VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The title of his presentation was "Perverse incentives or rotten apples?".
Around 2% of the investigators admits to have falsified or fabricated data at least once. And 34% reports to have been guilty to one or more questionable research practices, such as doing many statistical analyses and to publish only what fits their theoretical framework. Or to report on other study questions than planned, without notifying the reader. Or to summarize the existing knowledge in a biased way.
Of course, cases of research misconduct ought to be discovered and addressed. But much more important is to work on the resilience of all researchers. It is about the daily dilemmas. About the human tendency to cut corners if possible. It concerns the gray shades on a sliding scale. Prevention of questionable research practices is very important. By intensive training of researchers and quality care in the workplace. And by working on an open culture where dilemmas are discussed and dubious behavior is signaled explicitly.
Universities should ensure that the training is in order and the culture adequate. And critically look at perverse incentives, such as a too high publication pressure. But also by ensuring proper guidelines. And by having a fair and transparent procedure for suspected violations of scientific integrity. The funders of research have also an important role to play. By being alert for perverse incentives. By making demands on the knowledge institutions. But especially by stimulating research on the way in which scientific integrity can best be guaranteed. Because to date little is known about that.
Read the full presentation [pdf 3.5mb]