Background: Academic institutions play important roles in protecting and preserving research integrity. Concerns have been expressed about the objectivity, adequacy and transparency of institutional investigations of potentially compromised research integrity. We assessed the reports provided to us of investigations by three academic institutions of a large body of overlapping research with potentially compromised integrity.
Methods: In 2017, we raised concerns with four academic institutions about the integrity of > 200 publications co-authored by an overlapping set of researchers. Each institution initiated an investigation. By November 2018, three had reported to us the results of their investigations, but only one report was publicly available. Two investigators independently assessed each available report using a published 26-item checklist designed to determine the quality and adequacy of institutional investigations of research integrity. Each assessor recorded additional comments ad hoc.
Results: Concerns raised with the institutions were overlapping, wide-ranging and included those which were both general and publication-specific. The number of potentially affected publications at individual institutions ranged from 34 to 200. The duration of investigation by the three institutions which provided reports was 8-17 months. These investigations covered 14%, 15% and 77%, respectively, of potentially affected publications. Between-assessor agreement using the quality checklist was 0.68, 0.72 and 0.65 for each report. Only 4/78 individual checklist items were addressed adequately: a further 14 could not be assessed. Each report was graded inadequate overall. Reports failed to address publication-specific concerns and focussed more strongly on determining research misconduct than evaluating the integrity of publications.
Conclusions: Our analyses identify important deficiencies in the quality and reporting of institutional investigation of concerns about the integrity of a large body of research reported by an overlapping set of researchers. They reinforce disquiet about the ability of institutions to rigorously and objectively oversee integrity of research conducted by their own employees.
- research integrity