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Research Data and Responsible Publishing | High Standards and Ethical Practices Go Hand in Hand

By SRAI News posted 03-09-2023 09:36 AM


Research Data and Responsible Publishing | High Standards and Ethical Practices Go Hand in Hand

Publication of research data has implications for PIs and organizations. How do investigators know if a journal is reputable or practices ethical compliance? This month, in our final research data series installment the Spotlight looks at the close relationship between research data and responsible publishing. Highlighted here are standards and guidance from the Center for Publication Ethics (COPE), as well as National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines for credible journals. Compliance ramifications for publishing and publication open access requirements are considered as well.

After research data is created, analyzed, and conclusions drawn, the next step is typically publication. Publishing research findings is one of the ways investigators demonstrate expertise in their chosen field. Podium and poster presentations are helpful, but publishing is the pinnacle of becoming an expert. When investigators are ready to publish, how do they know whether the correct guidelines are being followed or even if the journal is worth the time and effort it takes to publish? This article will examine the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) standards, what the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says about credible journals, and other issues that should be considered when publishing research data. 

COPE’s purpose is to “ensure ethical practices become part of publishing culture.” COPE has a set of Core Practices developed in 2017 which replaced its original Code of Conduct. These Core Practices that apply to every aspect of publishing include: 1) allegations of misconduct; 2) authorship and contributorship; 3) complaints and appeals; 4) conflicts of interest/ competing interests; 5) data and reproducibility; 6) ethical oversight; 7) intellectual property; 8) journal management; 9) peer review processes; and 10) post-publication discussions and corrections. Additional detail for each Core Practice can be found here

COPE also provides guidance on a variety of topics essential to publishing. Recent guidelines include subjects such as editorial board participation, principles of transparency and best practice in scholarly publishing, and cooperation between research institutions and journals on research integrity cases. Most recently, with the rise in artificial intelligence (AI) methods for writing and reporting data, COPE  issued guidance on Authorship and AI tools that states, “Authorship and AI tools, such as ChatGPT, should not be listed as an author as they cannot take responsibility for submitted work, and their use should be fully transparent.”

 In 2017 NIH released NOT-OD-011 – Statement on Article Publication Resulting from NIH Funded Research. The statement advises “to protect the credibility of published research, authors are encouraged to publish papers arising from NIH-funded research in reputable journals.” This notice also offers guidance on characteristics of journals that have been known to not follow best practices. These characteristics include misleading pricing, failure to disclose information to authors, aggressive tactics to solicit article submissions, inaccurate statements about editorial board membership, and misleading or suspicious peer-review processes.

NIH recommends several other resources that can assist with determining credible journals. Think, Check, Submit provides checklists to follow when considering a submission to a particular journal or publisher if working on a complete book or chapter within a book. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors provides recommendations for this topic  as well as a joint statement/guidance from COPE, the Directory of Open Access Journals, the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, and the World Association of Medical Editors. 

Knowing all this, what if PIs still find themselves publishing somewhere that is not credible or is purposefully not following guidelines from credible journals when trying to publish? There are career consequences for this that could have the opposite effect of making someone known as an expert in the field. This issue took center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic as the public  craved knowledge on what COVID-19 was and the pandemic seemed endless.  One example of incredibility was when the founder of Surgisphere, an American healthcare analytics company, seemed to take advantage of the public’s need for COVID-19 information. The organization published claims that they had a database of over 700 hospitals on six continents that could produce data in relation to both the use of Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. The data was published in 2020 in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), both reputable publications, but discrepancies existed including high numbers of hospitalizations captured in places where electronic medical records were not used and larger effect sizes for the use of the drugs for the time they were produced (Watson, 2020). 

Both journals implemented changes in practice because of the publications. The Lancet expressed the intention to add questions to their peer review process about possible breeches of research integrity, include more author-specific questions pertaining to data accuracy and reliability, and implement a data sharing requirement for all papers, not just those associated with clinical trials (Offord, 2020). Other issues arising from unethical publishing include the application of technology to detect not only plagiarism in the writing, but also in the graphics. In the past, these technologies only worked on narrative text. 

Most unethical publishing appears to come from the pressures of promotion and tenure. One study examined historical promotion and tenure criteria for five different units at a university. Findings concluded that pressures were the result of the faculty themselves, the institution’s desire to gain legitimacy, and the disciplinary ties outside the university (Veliz & Gardner, 2019). To reduce these unethical behaviors, policies and procedures that link human resource functions with data ownership must be created and in place for organizations. 

Data is a necessity and vital to the progression of research. As research administrators, it is important to maintain the highest standards when it comes to the creation, retention, ownership, stewardship, management, sharing, and publication of that data. This effort will assist in securing what is needed the most to strengthen research worldwide – public trust.

Check out the previous articles in the Research Data and Responsible Publishing series:

Authored by Carly Pigg, CRA, Coordinator of Grants and Development
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center