Written Evidence Submitted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
I am pleased to send you written evidence for this important inquiry. The UK has an outstanding reputation for the quality of its research and we are investing to ensure the UK is a global science superpower. Public trust in research is an important issue, particularly in the light of the pandemic and the central role scientists and researchers have played in the response.
The UK research sector has a long tradition in upholding values that underpin reproducibility including rigour, integrity and openness. Individual researchers and institutions are working hard to go further as the nature of science and research changes. For example, the availability of big data requires many more researchers to gain new skills in working to interpret large datasets appropriately. The written evidence aims to set out the Government’s broad approach to reproducibility. UKRI will be submitting a more detailed response to your inquiry.
In my new role as UK Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, I look forward to working with you and the Select Committee on this and other inquiries.
GEORGE FREEMAN MP
Minister for Science, Research and Innovation
The breadth of the reproducibility crisis and what research areas it is most prevalent in
The ‘reproducibility crisis’ is a term coined to reflect growing concerns about research where it is not possible to reproduce the methodology and/or results. Concern about the reproducibility of research is a well-recognised issue and tackling the causes is an important priority in the UK research sector and internationally. The UK government and public funders of research have committed to support the sector in taking action so that the UK maintains and strengthens its reputation for the quality of and public trust in research. This evidence sets out the range of ways in which we seek to achieve this objective.
In terms of the research areas most affected, the UK Reproducibility Network, funded by UKRI does not focus on specific research areas. It seeks to enhance the quality and trustworthiness of research across all disciplines. In terms of evidence gathering and media focus, medical sciences and social sciences are two areas of research that have been highlighted as being of particular concern, but we are clear that the issues are not limited to these fields.
The trustworthiness of research is vital because it underpins the integrity of scientific inquiry and can have real world impacts. One reason this issue has been highlighted in medical sciences is because of the link with new treatments and drugs.
The issues in academia that have led to the reproducibility crisis
The UK has a strong reputation for science, research and innovation and is recognised as a leader in research integrity and open science. The issues in academia that need to be tackled to address concerns about reproducibility of research can be divided into cultural issues and individual practice, particularly methodological approaches and interpretation of data. Fraud is not considered to be a significant contributing factor in the UK, being relatively rare.
Culture of research
Competition and the pressure to publish are often cited as underpinning factors which may be impacting negatively on research integrity and ‘reproducibility’. There is also a focus on ‘new’ research; journals may be less inclined to publish papers that repeat previous research whether these reinforce or contradict the previous results. This can lead to errors going uncorrected.
These factors can also impact on practices that underpin research integrity and lead to poor research practices. BEIS and UKRI are taking forward an agenda around research integrity which is supported by values of honesty, rigour, transparency and open communication, care and respect for those involved in research, and is vital underpinning for reproducibility.
Practices which can undermine the reproducibility of research include:
The role of government and public funding bodies in addressing the reproducibility crisis
This government recognises the importance of excellent research and is committed to cementing the UK’s position as a Science superpower. Research enriches our social and cultural life and is critical to the future prosperity of the UK. If we are to maintain our position at the very forefront of research, then we must be sure that the work of our research community is underpinned by common values of rigour, respect, and responsibility. Excellence and integrity are inextricably linked.
Government and public funding bodies use frameworks and policies which incentivise high quality research, research integrity and open science. The R&D Roadmap, published last summer, committed to driving up the integrity and reproducibility of research. This was supported by the recent announcement of UKRI’s new Open Access policy which means all peer-reviewed research articles acknowledging UKRI funding are to be available immediately open access on publication, and with full re-use rights. These commitments to increased openness will help enable reproducibility, and ensure knowledge is shared and spread collaboratively.
A more open approach to research and to data sharing will increase the reliability of the research process and increase the credibility of published research results. Several influential publishers of research including Nature, PNAS, PLOS and Science have already introduced data sharing policies for the research they publish. This is intended to enable reproducibility and to increase the efficiency of the research process and to accelerate the discovery process.
The R&D People and Culture Strategy, published in July 2021, set out actions to strengthen research culture in the UK including improving frameworks and incentives. As it moves forward, the Future Research Assessment Programme will evaluate REF 2021, and investigate possible evaluation models and approaches, looking to identify those that can encourage and strengthen the emphasis on delivering excellent research and impact, and support a positive research culture. Six UK research funders, including UKRI and NIHR, recently committed to working together towards a narrative CV based on the Résumé for Researchers, through a joint statement. The narrative CV approach – a commitment in the R&D People and Culture Strategy - is a practical way of recognising a wider range of contributions to research, tackling the strong emphasis on publications.
UKRI is supporting important initiatives aimed at targeting the underlying causes which lead to research not being reproducible, alongside providing financial support for the UK Reproducibility Network and support for the Committee on Research Integrity.
The role other parties can play in addressing the reproducibility crisis
As outlined above, a wide range of other parties in the research sector are already engaged in improving the quality of research and more can engage in this work. This includes individual researchers, institutions, regulatory bodies, networks, national academies and learned societies, funders and journals.
What policies or schemes could have a positive impact on academia’s approach to reproducible research
There are examples of good practice across the sector. In particular, the UK Reproducibility Network is an important focus in the research landscape. The additional £8.5m funding over 5 years, including £4.5m from the Research England Development fund announced on 15 September 2021, will drive greater uptake of open research practices which will keep the UK at the forefront of producing rigorous and reproducible research.
How establishing a national committee on research integrity under UKRI could impact the reproducibility crisis
In 2018, the Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report of an inquiry into research integrity. A key recommendation was that UKRI set up a national research integrity committee. The government and UKRI responded to the Commons Committee report and following wide engagement with the sector UKRI is now establishing the UK Committee on Research Integrity (UK CORI) as a free-standing committee for three years.
The committee will champion research integrity in the UK, working closely with other organisations like UKRIO and the Concordat to Support Research Integrity Signatories Group, developing, identifying and sharing good practice. The committee will build and share evidence and provide a national and international voice.
UK CORI is now seeking to appoint its inaugural chair and founding members who will play a fundamental role in the establishment and development of the committee.
The Committee will play an important role in strengthening the quality of research by improving the research environment. It will tackle concerns about the reproducibility of research, building on the actions that are currently taking pace across the research sector. In particular, the Committee will provide evidence, encourage discussion, share learning on how to improve practices in research design and reporting.