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Research misconduct a concern in developing countries

[CAPE TOWN] A systematic review has identified studies reporting high levels of scientific misconduct among health researchers from low- and middle-income countries.

The review, presented at the Global Evidence Summit in Cape Town, South Africa, last week scoured 32 empirical studies focusing on research integrity in LMICs.

The commonest forms of misconduct reported in the studies were plagiarism, non-reporting of conflicts of interest, and inaccurate authorship claims—either crediting non-contributing authors or omitting valid contributors.

Researchers surveyed in the studies expressed concern about the extent of misconduct occurring in their institutions. The review suggests such behaviour might stem from the high pressure to publish, lack of knowledge about correct procedures, and inadequate censure of wrongdoers.

Only four of the 32 studies focused on sub-Saharan Africa. This highlights the current lack of data about research integrity on the continent, said Anke Rohwer from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, who led the review.

Rohwer, from the university’s Centre for Evidence-based Health Care, is looking at research misconduct in LMICs as part of her PhD studies. “There is a lot of research capacity building in Africa, But we can’t do that without looking at integrity,” she said.

She thinks her review might underestimate the levels of misconduct, given that many of the studies relied on self-reporting from scientists. However, she warned that the review should not be read as meaning that LMICs experience more research misconduct than developed countries.

But the review shows that there is a need for training in research integrity matters across LMICs as they develop their research capacity, she said—not least because many LMICs are increasingly looking to base their practices and policies on evidence: “If you are going to use evidence, you have to trust the evidence.”