Research and Publication
Scientific research is the process of balancing objectives and motivation to advance knowledge and the understanding of human behavior. Standards of research, such as honesty, integrity, and objectivity, are the foundation for conducting science. In the course of scientific research, scientists must choose what problems to study, what methods to use, what literature to cite, how to collect and organize data, how to interpret and report data, and how much time to allocate for the various duties. Typically, the scientists’ time and effort get distributed among teaching, managing, and coordinating research, identifying new problems, interpreting data, publicizing advances and achievements, presenting work in the professional community, and most importantly, searching for funds to support research. The decision regarding how to distribute time and effort are influenced by employer’s needs, potential rewards, and personal aspirations. Which projects are going to be in the best interest of the employer, scientist, and field? In addition, scientists must constantly balance the demands of science with their personal and professional ethics. How one chooses to allocate time and resources can greatly impact the work. Typically, research is not a well-organized and fully planned process; it is aided by luck, intuition, and unexpected discoveries (Bird, 2001). Science is not an orderly process, yet should balance expectations and resources for the best possible outcome. Although ideal research is untainted by prejudice, the process is conducted by humans so by nature, it is not ideal. Scientific certainty and the level of certainty are limited because it is an individual’s best evaluation of a given matter. This concept will be further discussed later in this chapter. Researchers often have a variety of backgrounds and motivations that influence their work. Even actions that are justified by scientific inquiry may have started because of personal gain, whether that gain is financial, professional prestige, or something unique to the individual. Unfortunately, scientific research may carry economic rewards that may skew the objectivity of results. When studying scientific research, it is important to keep an open mind while considering the researcher’s possible biases.
Research builds on earlier work done by others. Oftentimes, research groups at universities are the backbone of science, but can we rely upon those institutions? The integrity of colleagues and the reliability of the data are extremely important to justify time, allocation of money, and resources available for further research. To assure that honesty and integrity are upheld in research, science uses peer review and publication as a system of checks and balances. Though peer review is required in the process of scientific research, it has limitations and should not create a false sense of security regarding the reliability of scientific findings. Potential problems with peer review include the inaccessibility of original data, bias by reviewers, and time or knowledge constraints. As Arnold S. Relman, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, states regarding trust in scientific research, “It seems paradoxical that scientific research, in many ways the most questioning and skeptical of human activities, should be dependent upon personal trust. But the fact is that without trust the research enterprise could not function” (Djerassi, 1991). Honesty in scientific research is quite important and helps prevent some of the potential problems. Dishonest actions could occur at any stage of scientific research; fabricated results may occur during data collection or scientists can conduct legitimate tests but report results dishonestly by making up or altering them. Although both stages involve fabrication, falsification occurs only when dishonest actions take place.
Misrepresentation of data occurs when data are collected and recorded honestly but are then represented in a dishonest manner. These occurrences are more ambiguous, such as the misuse of statistics in a written report or during court testimony. Dishonesty occurs with the intent to deceive, such as when people stretch the truth or lie when applying for grants. Additional examples of dishonesty in research include plagiarism and the misrepresentation of a scientist’s publication status. Plagiarism is deceptive communication where someone misleads the audience by acting as if the words are their own or the false representation of another person’s work without giving appropriate credit through citation, attribution, or paraphrasing. Additional considerations include length, extent, intent, and means of plagiarism. Most issues investigated are ruled as unintentional; they are not considered dishonest or theft as much as careless or unconscious mistakes. Common issues include:
- • Authors not knowing how to properly cite sources.
- • People forgetting where the original work originated.
- • Authors believing that they have reworded a passage enough but falling short.
- • Authors properly citing, yet utilizing a significant amount of someone else’s material.
- • People not realizing that a similar study had already been conducted.
All examples of dishonest behavior are harmful to objective inquiry and public perception of science and should be avoided. The scientific field needs to have mechanisms to address, investigate, and remediate situations that arise.
Publication in scientific journals is a crucial part of scientific research used to present technical information. Writing about research formalizes the results. Publication provides readers with the important facts and data without every minute detail. It is important to have awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of the work when communicating in a public forum. The information published on a given project should include data, materials, methods, names and institutional affiliation of authors, references, permission, acknowledgments, publication status, funding sources, and financial interests or conflicts of interests. Editors and reviewers should help authors improve upon their work and treat authors with dignity and respect, should return manuscripts in a timely manner, and should help protect the confidentiality of manuscripts. These people are responsible for making fair, informed, and objective decisions regarding the publication. The peer review process creates a number of positive contributions to scientific publications. First, the process provides quality control. Peer review must be done carefully, critically, and objectively. Next, peer review involves privileged communication, assuring that the information is not copied or shared before publication. Finally, the findings are eventually made public for the purpose of broadening knowledge and expanding research. Publishing gives authors ownership and intellectual property over the research. Authorship is defined by the amount of responsibility and contribution to a project; if a person is willing to take credit, he or she must also take responsibility. Publishing provides scientists with the opportunity to share research findings, to advance knowledge, and to learn from the work of peers while maintaining open communication and the high standards of science.
There are occasions when publication might turn negative. Some journals may have goals that eliminate objectivity, which can highly damage a scientist’s credibility. Also, there is pressure to publish because it enables scientists to secure grant funds, tenure, promotions, and professional prestige. Such pressures entice people to publish even if they are not the best qualified to do so. The pressure creates a rush to publish that can cause an increase in errors, biases, and deceptions. Selection of data for publication may create problems for researchers because, as the National Academy of Science states, “The selective use of research data is another area where the boundary between fabrication and creative insight may not be obvious (National Research Council, 2009).” Peer review is useful in determining what data can and should get omitted. Flaws found in the peer review process are typically due to a lack of time, desire, or funding for the reviewer to adequately accomplish his or her responsibility. One area that is increasingly problematic in the scientific community is the least published unit, or the idea of publishing the same study in different forms. Publishing the same information repeatedly is not beneficial to science; it wastes resources and gives a person more recognition than he or she deserves. The final issue in scientific publication concerns awarding proper credit to contributors. Credit given through authorship when not deserved or by failing to recognize someone who made important contributions is a problem. Many scientists experience what Robert K. Merton (1968) coined the Matthew effect, for as shown in the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but
from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
King James Version
The Matthew effect is more commonly known as the tendency for a noted scientist to get more credit than he or she deserves due to past accomplishments. When someone is considered an expert on a topic and he or she is the second author, many colleagues may refer to the publication without mention of the true author. This tendency is fairly common in scientific publication— for example, when student interns conduct the majority of the work on a project while the mentor receives the majority of the recognition. Established scientists who are aware of this phenomenon may take steps to decrease the impact of this, such as not coauthoring papers or giving first billing to co-authors (Merton, 1968).
One downside to open communication in science is when the public is overly critical or uses an author’s work against them. The result may encourage silence, or a lack of publication, which goes against a hallmark of science as a profession. Although publication is a useful tool in scientific research, it is important to avoid situations that may negatively impact the power of publication.