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Research integrity: we are all accountable
  1. Catherine M Otto1,
  2. Steven M Bradley2,3,
  3. David E Newby4
  1. 1Division of Cardiology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA
  2. 2VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Denver, Colorado, USA
  3. 3University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA
  4. 4Centre for Cardiovascular Science, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Catherine M Otto, Division of Cardiology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Box 356422, Seattle, WA 98195, USA; cmotto{at}u.washington.edu

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Advances in medical care depend on rigorous, reliable and reproducible basic, clinical and translational research. The scientific method used in medical research is predicated on testing a hypothesis using a well-thought-out study design with meticulous data recording and appropriate statistical analysis of the results. In addition, core scientific research values include truthful, objective, unbiased and complete reporting of the study results. Unfortunately, the veracity of research findings is sometimes called into question, typically after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Sometimes the concern is simply suboptimal data presentation or statistical analysis, but other cases involve dubious or even fraudulent data.1–3 This type of research misconduct harms the scientific community and may harm patient care. Preventing research misconduct requires active participation and interaction between the researcher, the research institution and the medical journal.

Research misconduct

We repeatedly see examples of research misconduct in clinical cardiology research, resulting in retraction of papers and potentially leading to suboptimal, or even detrimental, patient care. From the point of view of the research community, it is not enough to retract publications after scientific misconduct has been identified. Instead, we must prevent research misconduct—defined broadly to include publication of fraudulent data, inadequate record keeping, lack of full patient consent, plagiarism and poorly designed research protocols. Reviewing where things went wrong can be helpful, but we also need new strategies to prevent publication of research that fails to meet the highest standards of integrity. Research misconduct wastes research funding, damages the standing of the scientific community, undermines the altruistic contribution of subjects enrolled in the study and endangers patients subsequently receiving treatment based on fraudulent data.4

Ensuring research integrity

The basic principles of research integrity have been clearly articulated in numerous formats by professional organisations, research institutions and individual thought leaders. We know what we need to do; the challenge is …

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