The culture of scientific research – five months on

Five months on from the publication of our report The Culture of Scientific Research, Catherine Joynson reflects on the response so far, and our future plans.

In December 2014, the Council published the findings of a series of engagement activities that explored the culture of scientific research in the UK. A survey of almost 1000 scientists and others, and discussion events at universities around the UK, suggested that scientists are motivated in their work to find out more about the world and benefit society, and that they believe collaboration, multidisciplinarity, openness and creativity are important for the production of high quality science.

However, in some cases, the findings suggest, the culture of research in Higher Education Institutions does not support or encourage these goals or activities. For example, high levels of competition and perceptions about how scientists are assessed for jobs and funding are reportedly contributing to a loss of creativity in science, less collaboration and poor research practices, such as rushing to finish and publish research or employing less rigorous research methods. The report concludes with suggestions for action for funding bodies, research institutions, publishers and editors, professional bodies and individual researchers. Read more about the findings here.

Response

In a Foreword in the report, the Presidents of four major science organisations (the Royal Society, Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry and Academy of Medical Sciences) welcomed the report, recognised the integrated view that the culture-wide approach of the project provides, and committed to consider the report’s suggestions for action in the context of their own communities.

In the five months since the report was published it has received an incredibly positive response from other key players, including the UK Research Integrity Office and the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Our call for more detailed information on funding trends was endorsed by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee in its report on GM crops and the precautionary principle.

Our findings have encouraged debate among the research community more widely, for example on Twitter (search #sciculture) and in response to articles such as this editorial in Nature, this article written for The Conversation, and this piece in F1000Research.

We have also been out and about talking about the project at various events, such as a meeting of the Strategy Group for the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers organised by Vitae, the European Seminar of the Committee on Publication Ethics, and a symposium on the reproducibility of research organised by the Academy Medical Sciences, BBSRC, MRC and the Wellcome Trust. We have further exciting opportunities to discuss the findings coming up in the next few months, including in the plenary session of the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio de Janeiro.

We highlighted our findings in a response to the Nurse Review of Research Councils, and in more informal discussions with, for example, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport, and the Science and Technology Select Committees of both Houses.

Time for action

Has it been all talk and no action I hear you ask? Firstly, we think there is value in promoting awareness and debate in itself, particularly when we see this reaching all corners of the research community. It is extremely difficult to change the culture of an organisation, let alone multiple organisations that are sometimes pulling in different directions, but an acceptance of a collective obligation to enact change is certainly the first step. Our report, we hear, has also provided evidence and encouragement to support important initiatives that are already being carried out by organisations such as Vitae, UKRIO and Universities UK.

But action and change is the ultimate long-term goal. To help achieve this, we will be hosting two workshops this year to discuss what the research community can do to ensure the culture of research supports science that is high quality and ethical. The first workshop will be for senior university research managers and staff; the second for all stakeholders including funders, professional bodies, journals, researchers and universities. If you are interested in taking part in either of these events, please contact Catherine Joynson cjoynson@nuffieldbioethics.org

Comments

  1. There is a disconnect in the report between the findings and the recommendations. The findings note the many advantages of open access publishing whereas the recommendations do not mention open access publishing.

    1. Hi Neil – thanks for your comment. Our findings identified many positive aspects of open access publishing and our suggestions for action include a call for publishers and editors of scientific research to promote openness and advice to researchers to consider ways of sharing work with others, for instance by publishing in accessible journals

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