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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Research integrity - Part 1

This piece of news is not really new. Those in the academia would probably be aware of this development at the esteemed Harvard University. It involves a well-known behavioural psychologist, Professor Marc D. Hauser. He was accused almost a year ago of eight counts of scientific misconduct which Harvard did not really specify. But we do know that this misconduct includes "data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results". While investigation is still on-going, the professor has recently resigned from Harvard.

I chose to highlight this matter because I feel there is a need to instill and adhere to integrity when conducting research. Those in the academia would understand the race to be the best, to conduct novel research and to publish research findings in top-tier research journals of international standing. While this may spur research activities, I sincerely hope that no one would cut corners by committing scientific misconduct, especially when it comes to research methodology, data collection, data analysis and reporting.

I really hope no academics in the country would stoop this low. Perhaps it is a good idea for all universities to have a unit called "Research Integrity Unit" to monitor, educate and prevent scientific misconduct. Most, if not all, well-known universities in developed countries have this unit and a "research integrity officer". I am not sure whether we have this in Malaysia. If there is none, it is high time to establish this crucial office and important position.

However, I know for a fact that most local universities have their research ethics committee to vet, approve/disapprove and monitor research projects involving human subjects. This committee may be at the faculty level or at the university level. I am privileged to sit in Universiti Teknologi MARA's research ethics committee under the Research Management Institute of the university. However, the scope of this committee does not include research that does not involve human subjects. I believe that all research projects should be monitored by the research integrity officer. There should also be a code of conduct for adherence by all researchers.

Oxford University for instance have a code of practice and procedure on academic integrity in research. This can be viewed through this link. Research institutions, aside from universities, like the National Institute of Health in the United States also has their own policy on this matter. From my perspective, these two examples can be viewed as useful and practical guidance for local researchers.

Don't let the race to improve rankings result in this kind of shame.

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