Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 211–229 | Cite as

A Systems Approach to Understanding and Improving Research Integrity

  • Dennis M. GormanEmail author
  • Amber D. Elkins
  • Mark Lawley
Opinion Piece


Concern about the integrity of empirical research has arisen in recent years in the light of studies showing the vast majority of publications in academic journals report positive results, many of these results are false and cannot be replicated, and many positive results are the product of data dredging and the application of flexible data analysis practices coupled with selective reporting. While a number of potential solutions have been proposed, the effects of these are poorly understood and empirical evaluation of each would take many years. We propose that methods from the systems sciences be used to assess the effects, both positive and negative, of proposed solutions to the problem of declining research integrity such as study registration, Registered Reports, and open access to methods and data. In order to illustrate the potential application of systems science methods to the study of research integrity, we describe three broad types of models: one built on the characteristics of specific academic disciplines; one a diffusion of research norms model conceptualizing researchers as susceptible, “infected” and recovered; and one conceptualizing publications as a product produced by an industry comprised of academics who respond to incentives and disincentives.


Systems thinking System dynamics Research ethics Publish or perish Open data Registered reports 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.Department of Industrial and Systems EngineeringTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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