Research Ethics

Integrity is fundamental when it comes to trust

Ensuring integrity in research is more important than ever. At the University of Bergen, we are now strengthening our preventive work and placing particular focus on new researchers.

Benedicte Carlsen
This op-ed is written by Benedicte Carlsen,Vice-rector for Research and International Relations.
Eivind Senneset/UiB

Main content

This article was first published in The Research Ethics Magazine. 

People’s trust in research is dependent on researchers being honest and reliable, and that they do not falsify, fabricate or plagiarise research results. 

There are several known examples of how gross research misconduct can lead to serious consequences. The most famous example is probably Andrew Wakefield’s publication of false research results in 1998, which showed that 

the MMR vaccine for children could lead to autism. This immediately affected people’s trust in the authorities’ childhood immunisation programmes in several countries. 

Despite the fact that the results have been thoroughly disproven, they still persist as a myth that affects vaccination rates in some groups, and has led to measles outbreaks and subsequent deaths. 

Major challenges 

The Wake eld scandal is a good illustration of the connection between integrity and trust in research, and that trust in research in turn affects trust in authorities – who, based on research, make important decisions on behalf of all of us. 

We are experiencing increasing internationalisation of research collaboration and globalisation of knowledge, a more demanding geopolitical situation, increased digitalisation and wavering trust in research in many countries. Ensuring integrity in research is therefore more important than ever. In order to achieve this goal, it is essential that procedures and guidelines regarding integrity in research are updated, and that individual researchers internalise this in their approach to research work. 

It is therefore crucial at the start of their careers that researchers gain an understanding of why integrity is fundamental when it comes to trust in research. 

Expertise and sense of responsibility 

According to the Research Ethics Act, researchers must ensure that all research is conducted in accordance with recognised research ethics norms, which include integrity requirements. In addition, research institutions must have a system for detecting and processing any research misconduct. 

The universities must have research ethics committees in place that deal with cases of deliberate misconduct. The universities are also responsible for preventing misconduct and cheating by informing and training researchers regarding good research ethics. 

In 2020, the Office of the Auditor General of Norway carried out an audit of research ethics in the university and university college sector. Their main conclusion was that the research institutions are not doing enough to safeguard research ethics. 

An important objection was that the institutions did not provide adequate training in recognised research ethics norms. At the University of Bergen, we are now in the process of strengthening our preventive work regarding ethics, and an important focus is integrity in the research process and in the reporting of research results. 

This autumn, we will work intensively to renew our training, information and reflection procedures at all stages of research careers, from student to professor. As a result, we hope to ensure expertise and a sense of responsibility at all levels of the organisation. 

In many ways, we believe that this work is more important than control mechanisms, such as processing cases of misconduct.