A report released by the science, innovation and technology committee of the UK House of Commons is recommending that a subcommittee dedicated to tackling issues related to the reproducibility of research should be created.
In 2018, the committee, which consists of 11 MPs, previously recommended that a body be created to address research integrity issues at the country’s universities.
In response, the Committee on Research Integrity (Cori) was launched in July 2021 as a free-standing committee for three years. In May last year, after Cori’s inaugural meeting with the full membership, the organisation released its updated remit and aims.
That includes developing a strategy to achieve independence from the country’s umbrella funding agency UK Research and Innovation within its first year. It will also need to advise across the sector on issues related to research integrity and work with the advocacy group Universities UK to implement the Concordat to Support Research Integrity.
But now the committee is saying they are concerned at Cori’s apparent lack of focus on irreproducibility of research – a thorny issue in academic research that has received a lot more attention in recent years.
‘While we welcome the establishment of the new Committee on Research Integrity and note that one of its so-called strategic pillars is to “define the evidence base”, we are concerned about the absence of reproducibility as a priority in the new organisation’s strategy,’ a new report released by the group on 10 May reads. ‘We recommend that a sub-committee focused solely on questions of reproducibility in research should be established.’
The report adds: ‘We found that while there are many reports of problems of non-reproducibility, there has been no comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the scale of the problem in the UK, nor which disciplines are most affected and therefore the extent to which this is indeed a “crisis”.’
Scholarly publishers will also need to play a part by ensuring timely correction of the scientific record with retractions, corrections and errata. The process, the report suggests, shouldn’t take longer than two months.
Marcus Munafò, a biological psychologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who heads the UK Reproducibility Network, says the new report makes progressive and radical recommendations, which are achievable if there is coordination across the sector.
‘There are promising early signs – wider adoption of Registered Reports Funding Partnerships (RRFP) by funders and journals is one key recommendation in the report, and the pilot by Cancer Research UK and a range of journals from Springer-Nature, Wiley and PLOS demonstrates that such collaborative approaches are feasible,’ Munafò notes. Under RRFPs, research funders and journals team up to ensure that all research results are posted online regardless of their outcome.
Training researchers on research integrity during undergraduate, postgraduate and early-career stages is also crucial to ensuring reproducible research, the report argues.
In addition, funders should also check whether they provide the necessary resources to ensure that the papers stemming from their grants are reproducible, the report says. The report recommends that funders, including UKRI, start requiring reproducibility as a prerequisite for the grants they fund.
While the committee welcomes the UKRI’s move to mandate all publications stemming from its funding to be open access, it says the funding body should go further to also require data and code underlying papers to also be freely available online, making it easier for outsiders to replicate and reproduce studies.