OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion on Research Integrity

What does research integrity mean in an ideal open science ecosystem and how can libraries contribute to heighten professional ethics and standards required by open science? The sixth session of the OCLC/LIBER Open Science Discussion series brought together a small group of engaged participants focusing on these questions.

Ideal future state

Photo by JodyHongFilms on Unsplash
Photo by JodyHongFilms on Unsplash

One of the participants observed that there are two open science contexts where good research practices are particularly important:

(1) publication and dissemination

(2) data practices and management.

When publishing according to Open Access scenarios, researchers retain more control and copyrights over their outputs. The data underlying their research study remains available and is well documented, so that peers can verify and, when possible, reproduce the study.

In the open science environment, using the right data and using the data responsibly is key because the ecosystem is built on data and driven by artificial intelligence and digital tools.

This was the foundation of the ideal future state on which participants added new building-blocks:

  1. Respecting copyright and intellectual property rights when reusing data, graphs, images, software, or other sources is hardwired in the system and in the brains of researchers.
  2. Peer review is also a built-in process, verifying how data is used and how estimates are made.
  3. Research integrity is more than just a code of conduct document and a set of control mechanisms. Open practices – such as sharing data and open review – are instilled in students from the moment they enter university. They are based in universal values and norms that all researchers share, regardless of language and discipline-specific specialization. The ethical perspective is deeply ingrained in the academic community, where inclusion and the CARE Principles for indigenous data governance are highly valued.

These essential features assure the integrity of research and the credibility and reputation of the research enterprise – which is under constant pressure to perform by those commissioning or sponsoring research. As one participant put it:

“The pace of the research is not the pace of politicians and governments and workers, and I know the world is moving fast but we need to find a balance because otherwise we jeopardize (…) the credibility of key institutions.”

Top three challenges

Imposición del Birrete doctoral Universidad Complutense de Madrid – Public domain

The envisioning process was somewhat clouded by concerns about the current situation and the obstacles to be overcome to achieve the ideal future state. One discussant exclaimed: “in practice, winning the hearts and minds of researchers is not to be underestimated” and another added “younger researchers are more involved in open science but they are more at risk of being caught in [the trap of] predatory practices, for example predatory journals. They are less aware of the huge problems about integrity.”

It wasn’t surprising to see 17 challenges listed during the second part of the discussion, when we asked participants to suggest obstacles to achieving the future for research integrity they had just described. Polling within the group determined that the top three challenges were:

  1. Lack of knowledge about research integrity and ethics: researchers aren’t familiar with norms and precepts
  2. Prioritizing prestige over ethics
  3. Lack of research data management planning

Many of the other challenges listed could be seen as complementary to the first two obstacles. “Lack of awareness” and “lack of common understanding” about research integrity clearly are related to “lack of knowledge.” Similarly, “incentives for researchers,” “publish or perish mentality,” and “research evaluation methods” could be associated to “prioritizing prestige over ethics.” Finally, a fourth challenge surfacing at the top, and worth mentioning, is the siloed structure across academic campus (such as the institutional research board, departments, faculty, library, office of research) which inhibits an effective transition to the ideal future state.

Collective action

How can the library (and other) communities take collective action to address these challenges?  Collaboration with other stakeholders on campus to bridge the silos, was a suggestion that resonated with the group. One of the discussants gave an example from her own institution. Her library was getting questions at the end of the research cycle, about publishing images and copyrights. She went to the Research Board and encouraged them to send researchers to the library for training in copyright basics early in the process. She concluded by saying:

We need to be more deliberate about those conversations and [cross-campus] collaborations. Have them be a little more organic to the organization.

The group then discussed the crucial role of library liaisons who – as one participant expressed it – “should become an integral part of the research team. If they are more embedded in the research process, I think we can do a better job of facilitating conversations around research integrity.

Integrity is a sensitive issue. Reaching out to other liaison librarians across disciplines (e.g. STEM vs Humanities) and learning from each other could be enlightening. Reaching out to the Research Ethics Board is another possibility. In short, librarians need to be proactive and seek out these other stakeholders. Admittedly, it is a time-consuming process, and, yes, policies at national and institutional levels would be helpful – but, ultimately, researchers need to become knowledgeable about research integrity issues and “spread the word” themselves.      

Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash

In discussing the challenge of prestige being prioritized over ethics within the current system of incentives and rewards, one participant objected to the use of the term prestige. She argued prestige is what moves researchers and science forward and so, she proposed to use the term competition instead. Nowadays, she added, competition for excellence is more about rewards and career, rather than prestige. Another participant agreed: “Science gets rushed because there is so much competition.” There was a suggestion to take some of the pressure away and change it into celebration and reward. Good practices need to be rewarded.

The moderator challenged the group asking: “To what extent can the library really have an impact on this obstacle? (…) It seems to me that ultimately that sense of reward has to come from the discipline itself (…) So I wonder (…) do librarians have much scope to influence things in regard to this particular obstacle? Or do you think that most of it will have to come from the disciplines themselves? ” One of the group members offered that the best tactic for libraries to achieve impact is finding the right level in the organization that has influence on researchers and influence that intermediary level.

The policy issue arose again while discussing the third challenge: the lack of research data management planning. Policies can help making good practices a priority. Some of the examples given were: Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation funding programme, which mandates the deposit of datasets, and a university policy institutionalizing the training of PhD students in RDM during their first year. One discussant mentioned COVID19 as a trigger to encourage data sharing, and another the RDA COVID-19 Recommendations and Guidelines for Data Sharing, published by the Research Data Alliance.

The moderator concluded the session with some new questions to ponder: “The policy issue is quite interesting (..) Some institutions have data policies, some institutions do not (…) If [your] institution does have a data policy, how useful has that been in terms of encouraging researchers to manage their data appropriately and what kind of compliance response did you get?”

About the OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion Series

The discussion series is a joint initiative of OCLC Research and LIBER (the Association of European Research Libraries). It focusses on the seven topics identified in the LIBER Open Science Roadmap, and aims to guide research libraries in envisioning the support infrastructure for Open Science (OS) and their roles at local, national, and global levels. The series runs from 24 September through 5 November.

The kick-off webinar opened the forum for discussion and exploration and introduced the theme and its topics. Summaries of all seven topical small group discussions are published on the OCLC Research blog, Hanging Together. Up to now these are: (1) Scholarly Publishing, (2) FAIR research data, (3) Research Infrastructures and the European Open Science Cloud, (4) Metrics and Rewards and (5) Skills.