Researchers discuss ways to ensure scientific integrity

At a convention on “future proofing” science, participants stressed that institutions can provide training, establish policies and create a culture that rewards rigorous and reproducible studies.

- By Mandy Erickson

Attendees of the Rigor and Reproducibility Colloquium learned about several approaches institutions can use to ensure scientific integrity.
Mario Malički

In order to create an environment that encourages quality research, medical schools and other institutions should promote data sharing, provide more resources to faculty and students, and better train their researchers in practices that ensure integrity, Stanford Medicine faculty and administrators and their colleagues said at the Rigor and Reproducibility Colloquium on Jan. 29.

Ruth O’Hara, PhD, senior associate dean for research and the Lowell W. and Josephine Q. Berry Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, welcomed participants to the gathering, noting that researchers and administrators need to come together to address research integrity. Sponsored by the Stanford Program on Research Rigor and Reproducibility, the event featured speakers from Stanford Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Duke University who outlined policies that can lead to higher-quality studies.

Several speakers stressed that trying to root out the few who are conducting poor-quality work is counter-productive.

“Even the very best scientist and the very best labs can experience problems,” noted Steve Goodman, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology and population health and the director of the rigor and reproducibility program. As an epidemiologist, he said, he sees parallels between improving public health and promoting scientific integrity. The answer, he said, is “focusing not on the dishonest few but on all of us ... and seeing where we can do better.”

Geeta Swamy, MD, the vice dean for scientific integrity at Duke University, said her institution realized it needed to do better after a researcher was found to have engaged in misconduct. “What we’re really thinking about is how to build a culture” that supports good science, she said.

Required training

The university decided to mandate training for all researchers, encourage data sharing by adding it to a promotion checklist, require all departments to have a faculty member who is a research quality officer and provide software that helps researchers manage their data.

Alexa McCray, PhD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who chairs a committee focused on scientific rigor, said her school now provides multiple mentors to young researchers to ensure they have someone whose experience they can benefit from.  

Goodman added that the Stanford Program on Research Rigor and Reproducibility offers several courses on scientific integrity and is conducting a survey of research institutions across the country to produce a resource that helps institutions adopt best practices.

As scientists discuss scientific integrity, said Angela Rogers, MD, associate professor of pulmonary and critical care, they need to remember the human faces behind the data and who ultimately benefits from research. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted, she met with many COVID patients in the intensive care unit so she could gather data.

“I saw so many patients who said, ‘Above all, I want people to learn what’s happening with this disease.’ Patients have put enormous trust in us,” she said. “We need to ground our discussions in what patients have given us.”

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

2024 ISSUE 1

Psychiatry’s new frontiers