Integrity, quality and social impact are vital for the existence of science. Therefore, for several years, ZonMw and NWO have encouraged research into fostering responsible research practices and replication studies.
On 31 October 2019, the researchers involved jointly reflected on the progress so far. The most important conclusion was that an active community has evolved, which has obtained insight into various factors that hinder responsible research. Now the time is ripe to use this knowledge to offer solutions and implement them in practice.
Science is a dynamic and complex system of individual researchers, institutes and culture. Consequently there is no single clear solution for removing obstacles to responsible research practices, as Dr Guus Dix (CWTS) and Dr Fenneke Blom (VU Amsterdam) described in their presentations. Both researchers distinguished three levels: the scientific system as a whole (including publication pressure and hypercompetitiveness), research cultures (including wrong role models and insufficient training) and the individual researchers (including conflicts of interest and moral attitude). Improving the quality of research and the integrity of researchers and research groups requires measures at these three levels.
In the discussion following the presentations, the participants considered the bottlenecks and possible solutions. Their most important conclusion was that facilitating the quality of research and integrity is a shared responsibility. Keywords included education and training, role models, examples from other sectors and an open culture. There were also warnings: give space to bottom-up initiatives, try to avoid bureaucratisation and the creation of a culture of fear, and be aware of the differences between scientific domains and disciplines. Furthermore, the discussion about responsible research practices should not remain limited to the bubble of the researchers from the programmes Fostering Responsible Research Practices (FRRP) and Replication Studies (RS).
Replication research is important for the quality of research. That was clear, for example, from the presentation of Prof. Karina van Dalen-Oskam (University of Amsterdam) in which she showed that since the arrival of digital archives it has become far easier to go back to sources and to test hypotheses and repeat research from behind your desk. For example, it is now easier than in the past to determine the authorship of texts and test earlier statements from historians. Dr Joost de Winter (TU Delft) presented his replication of a famous study by the American Prof. Eckhard Hess from 1960 into the relationship between pupil size and interest in what we see. De Winter established that the conclusion of Hess could not be confirmed. These and the other projects in the programme Replication Studies demonstrate that replicating research is an important tool to establish the quality of research and the robustness of research results.
Transformation processes cost time. A movement has now arisen to improve research practices, partly due to the FRRP and RS programmes. Structurally embedding responsible research practices in day-to-day research requires even more still, including the implementation of the knowledge acquired and the involvement of PhDs and postdocs in the necessary innovation processes. And, as both programme chairs, Prof. Eduard Klasen (BVO) and Prof. Lex Bouter (RS), emphasised: more space for research into research. An initial step for this has been taken with the position paper “Promoting Responsible Research Practices”. During the afternoon of 31 October, participants could provide their input for this paper. Later this year, ZonMw will organise a consultative round to offer all researchers the opportunity to respond to this paper.