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PLOS on the UK Committee on Research Integrity: A Q&A with PLOS’ Suzanne Farley

Helping to ensure the integrity of research is an important part of a publisher’s role in the scholarly ecosystem. Although publication ethics concerns affect only a minority of live submissions, detection of historical cases continues to escalate. PLOS responded in 2017 by forming a dedicated Publication Ethics team to investigate papers for which concerns have been raised.

Now, PLOS’ Editorial Director, Suzanne Farley, is among eight people appointed to the new UK Committee on Research Integrity (UK CORI). This committee will take a deep dive into research integrity issues, and look for actionable steps to help prevent and resolve them. Prior to joining PLOS, Suzanne was the Research Integrity Director at Springer Nature. We asked her about her new role with UK CORI.

PLOS: What is the remit of this group?

Suzanne: In short, to promote research integrity across the UK and internationally. As recommended by a 2018 parliamentary committee, UK CORI will be a hub for discussion, consensus-building and development of co-ownership of integrity issues across research communities.

PLOS: What are the tangible objectives that this group hopes to achieve?

Suzanne: First, to consolidate and communicate the evidence base: exactly what problems is the UK grappling with, and how does the research integrity landscape here compare to that in other countries? Second, to coordinate dismantling of the drivers of poor research practice. All within a framework of co-ownership: everyone involved in the research enterprise has a role to play.

PLOS: What’s your timetable?

Suzanne: As the inaugural committee, we first need to formulate a strategy, work plan and governance structure. With most members having only about 20 days per year for committee work, and there being a strong desire to consult widely across research communities, that will take the best part of 2022. But strategy development will run concurrently with several workstreams focused on short-term tangible deliverables; more to come on those soon.

PLOS: The makeup of this group consists of more than academics. Who else is involved in this group? Why the diversity? 

Suzanne We have members with publishing, government and policy backgrounds, as well as academics. Membership reflects the need for a broad range of disciplinary and career experience to be brought to bear on research integrity. All subject areas and all parts of the research cycle have issues to address, but the drivers and ways of working can differ markedly across the research sector. A ‘one size fits all’ approach just won’t work. 

PLOS: Why is this group being formed now?

Suzanne: Awareness of research integrity is at an all-time high. And stakeholders are much more willing to discuss the problems openly. New groups and initiatives are springing up all the time; we need to ensure coordination of efforts to maximise efficiency and efficacy of interventions. Add emergent public mistrust to the mix, and there’s never been a better time for national and international collaboration to increase confidence in research. 

PLOS: A lot of research today involves international collaborations. Are there similar committees in different regions, and if so, does UK CORI intend to collaborate with them in the short/long term?

Suzanne: Yes and yes! Many other parts of the world have similar national bodies. UK CORI is already liaising with many and intends to expand its network. What’s worked in other countries that we can apply to the UK? With whom can we share knowledge and resources? Many UK researchers work with colleagues located elsewhere, or move from the UK to work abroad: fostering joint standards for best practice is in everyone’s best interest.

PLOS: Anything else that we’ve missed?

Suzanne: I don’t think so. More detail available here for anyone interested.

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