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Perceptions and Attitudes about Research Integrity and Misconduct: a Survey among Young Biomedical Researchers in Italy

Abstract

Research misconduct (RM) is an alarming concern worldwide, and especially in Italy, where there is no formal training of young researchers in responsible research practices. The main aim of this study was to map the perceptions and attitudes about RM in a sample of young researchers attending a one-week intensive course on methodology, ethics and integrity in biomedical research, held at the University of Insubria (Italy). To this end, we administered the Scientific Misconduct Questionnaire (SMQ-R) to all attendees at the beginning of the course. Thereafter, SMQ-R was re-administered at the end, to assess the impact of the course on the responsiveness of study participants, which is intended as the frequency of responses other than “don’t know”. Results show that respondents rate as high their own understanding about rules and procedures related to scientific misconduct (49.2% of respondents), as well as the effectiveness of their institution’s measures for reducing it (40%). Most of them (44.6%) perceive as low the chances of getting caught for RM. Some respondents believe that cases of misconduct occur in their workplace (20%–46.2%) and that the integrity of a research is not solely the responsibility of the principal investigator (73.8%). Among the main factors contributing to research misconduct, the need for publications, unclear definition of what constitutes misconduct and pressure for external funding do stand out. Respondents are concerned about the amount of misconduct and express a pressing need for training on research ethics. Remarkably, the responsiveness of participants tends to increase with course attendance. This finding may be useful to support education programmes devoted to research methodology, ethics and integrity among young researchers.

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Acknowledgements

The Second Insubria International School on Methodology, Ethics and Integrity in Biomedical Research was supported by grants from the IISS - Insubria International Summer School program and from the School of Doctoral Programs, University of Insubria. The patronages of ENAI - European Network on Academic Integrity (http://www.academicintegrity.eu), ADI - Associazione dottorandi e dottori di ricerca italiani (https://dottorato.it/), SISM - Segretariato Italiano Studenti Medicina (http://www.nazionale.sism.org/) and Nograzie (http://www.nograzie.eu/) are gratefully acknowledged.

At the time of the study, AF and AMT were PhD students enrolled in the PhD program in Clinical and Experimental Medicine and Medical Humanities at the University of Insubria, developing research programs on the immune effects of drugs and their relevance for the development of new immunomodulating therapeutics, ES was post-doc researcher at the Center for Research in Medical Pharmacology, University of Insubria, contributing to a research program on peripheral immunity in Parkinson’s disease, and NC was an undergraduate student attending the fifth year of the MD course at the University of Milan. MC and FM are tenured professors of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine of the University of Insubria and members of the ENAI - European Network on Research Integrity (https://www.academicintegrity.eu/).

The authors wish to express their gratefulness to Mrs. Paola Gervasini (Centre for Research in Medical Pharmacology, University of Insubria) and to the team of students that she headed (Celestin Etaba and Lisa Fransato; Degree Course in Economics and Management, University of Insubria) for their valuable collaboration in the administrative management and in the organisation of the School.

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Study conception and design: F.M. and M.C. Acquisition and management of data: N.C. Analysis: A.M.T., N.C., A.F. and E.S. Interpretation: F.M., M.C., A.M.T., N.C., A.F. and E.S. Drafting: A.M.T., A.F., N.C., E.S. F.M. and M.C. Revision: all the authors contributed to the revision. Tables: N.C., A.M.T., A.F., E.S., M.C. and F.M. Figures: A.F., E.S. and M.C. Bibliography: A.F., A.M.T. and N.C.

All authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content and all authors approved the final version to be published. All authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved and finally declare to have confidence in the integrity of the contributions of their co-authors.

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Correspondence to Franca Marino.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Mabou Tagne, A., Cassina, N., Furgiuele, A. et al. Perceptions and Attitudes about Research Integrity and Misconduct: a Survey among Young Biomedical Researchers in Italy. J Acad Ethics 18, 193–205 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-020-09359-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-020-09359-0

Keywords

  • Research misconduct
  • Research integrity
  • Training
  • Survey
  • Young researchers
  • Italy