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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 6-9 Table of Contents     

Compromising research for publishing thirst: Maladies and remedies

University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (UGC Center of Advanced Studies), Panjab University, Chandigarh, India

Date of Web Publication20-Sep-2010

Correspondence Address:
Bhupinder Singh
University Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (UGC Center of Advanced Studies), Panjab University, Chandigarh 160 014
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0976-9234.68868

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In the current scenario of academic-research, the publication process has become much more demanding and intricate. Every academician and principal investigator of a research project is constrained to publish high quality work in high impact journals. This unquenchable thirst of publishing is evident form the exponentially escalating number of journals and papers in the last one decade. The hallmarks of scientific research and publishing, i.e., ethics and integrity, are consequently getting attenuated. The current article is an endeavor to highlight the major unethical compromises which the authors are tempted to make while publishing their research. Accentuating "Good Publishing Practices", the article serves as a ready-reckoner on various Do's and Don'ts for young scientists and academicians to practice.

Keywords: Research ethics, publication, integrity, misconduct, plagiarism

How to cite this article:
Singh B. Compromising research for publishing thirst: Maladies and remedies. J Pharm Negative Results 2010;1:6-9

How to cite this URL:
Singh B. Compromising research for publishing thirst: Maladies and remedies. J Pharm Negative Results [serial online] 2010 [cited 2020 Aug 10];1:6-9. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Homo sapiens is a specialized creature with immense capabilities, capacities and aspirations. Accordingly, a typical human persona has unquenchable thirst not only for the attributes necessary to maintain the life, but also for those required to satiate the carnal void by accumulating more of financial, physical and even intellectual wealth. In an endeavor to douse the latter thirst, the scientists strive hard to attain high research accomplishments through all the possible means.

Gone are those days when simple but planned laboratory studies unearthing a newer trait of a drug or of a drug formulation could be considered for publication in a renowned journal. Publication, in today's ambiance of academic research, has become a lot trickier than ever before. Research has become highly equipment-intensive, involving authentic data using sophisticated instrumentation like LCMS, NMR, SEM, TEM, XRD, FTIR, MS, DSC, etc. Projects are becoming more collaborative. Outcome of research is now considered far more important than the genuine effort. Institutions are getting more aggressive in turning intellectual property into products. The principal investigators are more vested in commercializing their results. Who can publish what and when is no longer a purely scholarly issue. Also, funding from commercial entities, which generally control whether and how results are published, has become more significant.

Integrity and trust are considered as the two hallmarks of the scientific discovery and publication. Research papers are more likely to be accepted if the reviewers can trust the quality and integrity of research. Kudos to those who tend to maintain their commitment and compliance to academic ethics while making every plausible attempt to attain their intellectual objectives. Nevertheless, "to err is human". Man has discovered countless "green" pastures and invented innumerable tools. Still, he fumbles and at times, stumbles during the arduous, monotonous and wearisome journey to the destination. A "perilous" mind's flight tends to invent and discover innumerable shortcuts, deep-cuts and under-cuts to reach the target fast, howsoever. The same human intellect, which uncovered the revolutionary nuclear power as the substitute to conventional energy resources, has discovered atomic bombs too. Also, the human gray matter, which invented highly useful computer software and hardware, has also given birth to viruses, trojans and worms to devastate their working.

Every now and then, a hurried pursuit to get corporeal outcome from every research work published gives rise to the research malpractices. Researchers sometimes grossly exaggerate their research and results to publish it in a journal of high repute. Overall, gross scientific misconduct is reported to be rare. Nevertheless, subtler forms of unethical behavior are being observed quite often. In order to just increase the number of publications, researchers may adopt various kinds of academic manipulations, some vital ones being enumerated in [Table 1].
Table 1 : Plausible academic manipulations

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Most scientists regard such actions as unethical. Though most of these actions would violate different professional ethics codes or institutional policies too, yet these cannot per se be classified as "research misconduct". Hitherto, there has hardly been any evidence that science has become ethically corrupt. Still, even infrequent misconduct can tantamount to severe blow on faith in science. If one considers an analogy of research manipulations with crime, it does not take many burglaries, assaults, rapes or even murders in a town to erode the community's trust, and increase its fear and paranoia.

The research community, by and large, concurs that high ethical standards are the worthy goals. Even though universities, professional societies and journal publishers have publication policies and ethical guidelines outlining the standards that the researchers should comply with, no one is adequately prepared to deal with any potential disputes. Only few of the junior members of the scientific community who do most of the work, i.e., research scholars and post-docs, receive any explicit training on publication practices. Instead, they are expected to follow an old adage, "ethics are caught, not taught". Ethics, verily, are a method, procedure or perspective to decide how to act and analyze complex problems and issues. Teaching or instilling values of research ethics ideally suits during the primitive "impressionable" years at the level of a school, college, department, or even home and a religious place. Despite its need, dissemination of research ethics has so far been overlooked in sciences, in general, and pharmaceutical and medical sciences, in particular.

Scientists today are getting more and more inquisitive about the genuineness of published data. Phenomena like whistle-blowing (i.e., raising concern in the media or the public on malpractice) are on the steep rise. The violations of research publication ethics are not merely restricted to the developing world, where there is relative scarcity of resources. In the developed nations too, myriad research malpractices of different kinds and gravity have been reported. Notwithstanding the fact that the grave wrongdoings are uncommon, the measures to protect science are utterly obligatory. Quite often, the situations when authors "agree to disagree", need to be dealt with by some responsible agencies. To cope up with this global issue, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has been set up in UK with an aim to provide a forum for editors of academic journals to discuss issues relating to the integrity of the work submitted to, or published in, their journals. Several major publishers (including Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor and Francis, Palgrave Macmillan and Wolters Kluwer) have signed up their journals as COPE members. ACS's "Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research" and "Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals" published by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, are other good models by other professional societies to curb the potential menace. Many government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have exclusive ethical rules for funded researchers. "Research ethics" is most developed as a concept in medical research. The key agreements of "Declaration of Helsinki" and "Nuremberg Code" are vital milestones in instilling the needs of moral practices. Codes of professional conduct like "Code of Pharmaceutical Ethics" and the "Hippocratic Oath" have also been tangible steps toward inculcating the ethical being, especially among the juveniles.
"Ethical norms" or "correct norms" are so ubiquitous that one might be tempted to regard them as simple commonsense. On the other hand, if morality were nothing more than commonsense, then why are there so many ethical disputes and issues in our society? There are several reasons why it is important to adhere to ethical norms in research. First, norms promote the aims of research, such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error. Second, since research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among people of different disciplines and institutions, ethical standards promote the values essential for collaborative work, such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness. Third, many of the ethical norms help to ensure that researchers can be held accountable to the public.

Several measures can be taken in an endeavor to diminish the tendency of manipulating scientific research. Taking three decades of experience and abounding literature on the topic beside me, I have tried to compile these ostensible measures together categorically. To facilitate their retention in the gray matter, I propose 16-point "HAIL CORRECT NORMS", as enlisted in [Table 2].
Table 2 : Some basic tenets to avoid research compromises and to maintain research ethics

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Most scientists are quite ethical, most of the times. They habitually wonder as to what is the need to undergo training in research ethics, as they distinctly know the difference between right and wrong, and never fabricate, falsify or plagiarize. Also, they usually believe that most of their colleagues are highly ethical in research. Accordingly, it is too early to foretell if training and education in research ethics can help to reduce the rate of scientific misconduct. For this, one must first try to understand the plausible causes of misconduct. Researchers, who are morally weak, economically desperate, ignorant, insensitive, or psychologically disturbed, can easily succumb to the short-cut and un-conscientious practices. A course in research ethics, in such cases, is very unlikely to have any tangible impact.

Misconduct may also occur due to various institutional and environmental reasons like incentives, constraints and pressures to publish or obtain grants, and career ambitions in pursuit of profit, name or fame. In any case, a course in research ethics here is likely to help people to better identify with these stresses, sensitize people to ethical concerns, and improve ethical judgment and decision making. This helps to prevent deviations from "correct norms" even if it does not prevent misconduct. Many of such deviations may occur as researchers simply do not know or have never thought seriously about some of the ethical norms of research. For instance, some unethical authorship practices probably reflect years of tradition in the research community that has never been questioned until recently. If the director of an organization is named as an author on every paper that comes from his lab, even if he does not make any significant contribution, what could be wrong with that? This is just the way it is done, one might argue. If a drug company uses ghostwriters to write papers "authored" by its pharma-employees, what could be wrong with this practice too?

To conclude, I understand that competition is "cut-throat" and allurements galore. However, this does not imply that one should succumb to these enticements, and compromise with the ethics of science and scientific publishing. As a rule, it is deemed that manuscript peer review system and self-correcting mechanisms eventually catch those who try to hoodwink the system. However, the science's peer review system is far from being perfect, as it is quite vulnerable to bamboozle. Fraudulent research, accordingly, often enters the public record without being detected, sometimes for years.

Beyond doubt, it is the (ethical) attitude coupled with (innovative) aptitude that would determine the altitude (of accomplishment). In this context, aptitude to conduct work is partly innate and partly acquired. But the principled attitude can certainly be built. Also, the employers and evaluators of the researcher's work must understand the hiccups of equipment resources, infrastructural amenities, etc. Hence, they should not pressurize and pursue publication in very high impact journals only. From a scientist's perspectives, there is absolutely no dearth of journals today, print or open access, where one can report the work not at par with the international standards. Patenting undoubtedly increases the incentives for faculty and universities to keep their findings secret for longer than erstwhile. Scientific discoveries published in journals, dissertations or otherwise cannot usually be patented. Some authorities may, however, patent such discoveries, but the credibility, worth and applicability of such patents becomes questionable. In a nutshell, while conducting research and reporting it in journals, one must keep certain DO's and DON'Ts in attitude and practice, as enlisted in [Table 3].
Table 3 : Do's and don'ts on conducting ethical research and publications

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   Suggested Further Reading Top

  • National Academy of Sciences. On Being a Scientist: 3 rd ed. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2009. Available from: [2010 June 25].
  • Shaw SE, Petchey RP, Chapman J, Abbott S. A double-edged sword? Health research and research governance in UK primary care. Soc Sci Med 2009;68:912-8.
  • Anon. Publication Ethics Policies for Medical Journals: The World Association of Medical Editors. Available from: [last accessed on 2010 July 14].
  • Bhopal R, Rankin J, McColl E. The vexed question of authorship: Views of researchers in a British medical faculty. BMJ 1997;314:1009-12.
  • Faunce TA, Jefferys S. Whistle-blowing and scientific misconduct: Renewing legal and virtue ethics foundations. Med Law 2007;26:567-84.
  • Levine RJ. Some recent developments in the international guidelines on the ethics of research involving human subjects. Ann NY Acad Sci 2000;918:170-7.


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]


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