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2nd Singapore Research Integrity Conference - Mr Lim Chuan Poh

Presidents of NTU, NUS, and SUSS,
Distinguished Guests,
Friends and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good morning to all of you.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2nd Joint Conference on Research Integrity.
Let me also warmly welcome our overseas speakers who have travelled long distances to join us at this event.

Fake News

When the first joint conference was held two years ago in 2016, the term “fake news” may not have been so commonly used and heard by many people.

Today, “fake news” is a global phenomenon seen as one of the greatest threats to trust in governments as well as to law and order. “Fake news” are false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or other media, usually created to influence political views, as a joke or sometimes, just to cause mischief.

To combat the scourge of fake news, governments worldwide have legislated or are proposing laws to pre-empt and to hold organisations or individuals responsible for its spread.

Left unchecked, fake news can undermine the integrity of the media, result in a loss of reputation and an erosion of trust on information from bona fide media or authoritative sources.

Fake Research and a Lack of Research Integrity

Like fake news, the implications and impact of fake research such as the manipulation and fabrication of research findings or results are not dissimilar.

Although neither a novel nor a rare phenomenon, fake research has gained greater prominence and scrutiny in recent years, not helped by the many high profile cases of research misconduct reported in the media.

A recent case of research misconduct in the US involves the fall from grace of Professor Brian Wansink, director of the prestigious Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Dr Wansink was a prominent behavourial scientist who published hundreds of articles in the area of food science on how our environment affects how and what we eat. Journalistic and academic investigators discovered that he had encouraged his graduate students to engage in a dishonest practice of “p-hacking”.

This is the manipulation of data to find positive results that will be more significant and interesting and, therefore, more likely to be published. This led to further probes by Cornell University which eventually concluded that Professor Wansink had “committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”

Although Professor Wansink has denied all allegations of scientific fraud, 13 of his articles have already been retracted from journals, including six from the prestigious journal JAMA.

The problem of fake research transcends jurisdictional and social-cultural boundaries; spanning from countries with a traditionally strong research culture like the US, to emerging scientific hubs in Asia with ambitious plans to become global leaders in Science and Technology.

According to a report in Australia, in China, researchers face great pressure to publish their work in highly respected English-language journals.

Some universities dangle huge cash incentives of over US$40,000 if a scientist succeeds in publishing in a high-profile journal like Science or Nature.

This has led to unintended consequences where there is now a thriving black market trading in fake scientific research papers, fake peer reviewers, and even fake research results.

It is possible to buy a specific authorship position in a scientific paper published on a research work that never existed, and have the paper evaluated and given rave reviews by fraudsters.

To appreciate the magnitude of the problem, a world record of 107 papers in the cancer research journal Tumour Biology were retracted in 2017 and all 107 papers were authored by Chinese researchers.

Simply put, this is fake science, deceit and scientific fraud.

In both cases, there is an obvious lack of research integrity and the fake research simply will not yield reproducible results. 

2nd Singapore Research Integrity Conference - Audience

Reproducibility – A Component of Research Integrity

Reproducibility of research data is a critical component of research integrity. It is the ability of independent researchers to obtain the same or similar results when repeating an experiment and is a hallmark of good scientific research.

In recent years, the issue of reproducibility and research integrity has gained increased prominence and importance in scientific communities globally arising from the many reports of published research studies that are not reproducible.

Research data that are inaccurate, unreliable and not reproducible, constitute a waste of resource, especially when it is taxpayers’ money which could have been used to fund genuine research efforts.

The reasons for research results that are not reproducible are varied, ranging from data fabrication or falsification and research misconduct, to engaging in illegal or unethical behaviour.

The motivation for these behaviours often stems from the pressures that researchers face, as they say, to publish or perish.

There may also be genuine reasons for irreproducible data, such as unauthenticated cell lines, or variations in the quality of reagents used in experiments, especially antibodies. A disregard for research integrity is a menace to honest science and can lead to dire consequences, such as a significant erosion of public trust and confidence in entire research communities.

In the worst case scenario, fraudulent clinical data can harm patients. 

Importance of Upholding High Standards of Research Integrity

Science is international.

This is why holding high standards of research integrity matters as collaborative research transcends borders and research communities. Over the past decade, more and more countries and research organisations have acknowledged the importance of research integrity and ethics, recognising it as key to research excellence.

A host of measures have been introduced to emphasise and uphold high standards of research integrity.

These include creating national offices to oversee research integrity, introducing legislation on research ethics, developing policies on preventing and dealing with scientific misconduct, implementing data management rules across research institutions, establishing Ombudsman committees, formulating guidelines for good research practice and misconduct investigations, and harmonising training materials for research integrity education.

What is clear is that every research enterprise must play its part to advance research integrity and to ensure that its researchers are aware of and adopt ethical research practices.

Singapore’s Efforts to Strengthen Research Integrity Culture

Singapore, like other global R&D hubs, places great importance and contributes to the global effort in developing and promoting research integrity.

A*STAR is committed to the highest standards of research ethics and integrity.

At A*STAR, we have made it mandatory for all researchers at A*STAR Research Institutes to undergo web-based training courses in the area of research conduct and ethics to be certified under the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative, or CITI Program. 

We have also developed a code of best research practices to strengthen research integrity, which is made available to all staff in their orientation handbook and in the intranet of A*STAR.

More pertinently, A*STAR and our university partners are fully cognisant that Singapore is a very small place. What happens in any one institution will affect the reputation of the wider Singapore research community.

This is why A*STAR and the universities have come together to develop a common approach to advance research integrity in Singapore.

At the inaugural joint conference on research integrity two years ago, A*STAR, NTU, NUS and SUTD adopted a Joint Statement on Research Integrity Relating to Scholarly Publications.

The Joint Statement is a set of unified standards and principles for research publications that researchers must adhere to.

It built on the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity when Singapore co-hosted the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity in 2010.

The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity represented the first international effort to encourage the development of unified policies, guidelines and codes of conduct, with the long-range goal of fostering greater integrity in research worldwide. Today, I am very pleased to formally announce the accession of SMU and SUSS to the Joint Statement on Research Integrity Relating to Scholarly Publications.

We welcome other research performers to join us in this endeavour and commitment in the spirit of what was started here in 2010.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this conference is important for the key research stakeholders in Singapore to discuss and share ideas and best practices on how to foster and strengthen the culture of research integrity and ethics.

We must continue to work together to maintain Singapore’s reputation as a Global Asia node of research, innovation and enterprise, one where the results and findings can be trusted.

Equally important, we must continue to contribute in whatever way we can to realise the long-range goal of the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity. On this note, I wish all of you a successful and productive conference.

Thank you.

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