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Nationwide integrity survey to start in May

Image: xtock, via Shutterstock 

Data collection will paint a picture of Dutch habits and practices related to scientific integrity

The long-awaited Dutch National Survey on Research Integrity will start in May 2020, according to its overseer.

Lex Bouter, the leader of the research project, has confirmed to Research Netherlands that all academics based at Dutch universities and scientific medical centres, including PhD candidates, will receive a request to take part in the survey. They will be asked to answer a series of questions online about their practices with regards to scientific integrity. 

“The focus of our research is not on how often integrity violations occur, but on which variables determine how academics deal with research integrity,” said Bouter, who is professor of methodology and integrity at the Amsterdam University Medical Center. “This helps us to understand what the problems are and to develop policies to counter questionable research practices and promote responsible research practices.”

The ZonMW organisation for health R&D is funding the survey through its Fostering Responsible Research Practices programme. The Dutch research council NWO and the SGF association of Dutch health foundations are also contributing to the research.

The survey’s research team consists of six members from universities in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Tilburg. There is also a steering committee with members who specialise in survey methodology, statistical analysis, turning results into policy, and communication. In addition, researchers from various disciplines are involved in the project.

“A study of scientific integrity of this magnitude is unique in the world,” said Bouter. “In this way, we expect to get a much better picture of how things are going in Dutch science. Thanks to the online approach, research on this scale can be carried out relatively easily.”

Each academic will spend no more than 15 minutes answering questions. This is because every respondent answers a subset with a limited number of questions. “By combining all the subsets with questions and answers afterwards, you get statistically sound results because of the large number of respondents,” Bouter said.

The team has grouped the variables that may influence how academics deal with integrity into five clusters: adherence to individual and group norms; perceived justice in the organisation; perceived pressure; opinions about mentoring and social support; and expected likelihood of detection.

“Instead of focusing on the few who commit research misconduct, we focus on the prevention of questionable practices, which are much more common,” Bouter said. “Of course, someone who produces fake data has to be caught, but that’s not what this survey is about.”

More specifically, it concerns questions on whether someone has been engaged in any questionable research practices in the past three years. Here, the survey organisers hope to receive honest answers, because the privacy of respondents will be guaranteed. An independent agency, Kantar Public, will separate responses from email addresses and convert them into anonymous data sets categorised by disciplinary fields and academic ranks.

As soon as the results of the research are known, the team will discuss them with the rectors of all participating universities and deans of university medical centres. This will be followed by workshops in which the team discusses the results with larger groups of stakeholders, Bouter revealed.

The team also hopes to publish in scientific journals, give interviews, discuss the results at international conferences and inform the public.

“This survey will help us greatly to understand and thereby improve the care for good research,” Bouter said. “In this context, it is essential that we continue to pay attention to scientific integrity and carry out additional research. Ultimately, it is about monitoring and facilitating the quality of scientific research.”