Poor quality research and a lack of scientific rigour are more harmful to science than misconduct

Integrity is to the fore in Chemistry World with the comments by Maura Hiney and James Parry, but these contributions rather miss the point, it seems to me. After decades studying research papers in structural molecular biology to support my own researches, I have not detected fraud or other misconduct (perhaps I’m blind to it). What I have found is a high proportion of ‘research’ papers that are really at technician level, that is, results are reported without any effort to place them in a scientific model, context or theory. Promotion in science is largely through research and by recommendation from heads of team, not, for example, through excellence of teaching. However trivial the research results (and many are trivial), research ‘counts’ and teaching does not.

Another problem is that few scientists understand the nature of empirical truth and many still consider that they have been ‘proving’ various propositions. Virtually no scientists, anywhere in their training, are exposed to studies of the philosophy of truth and of science and hardly understand what is meant by such concepts, even though such ideas are central to the meaning of their lives’ work.

One way to raise the intellectual standard and integrity of research papers, is to consider questions such as these explicitly at the end of research papers:

1 What are the deficiencies in the work I am reporting?

2 How could the value of my results be improved?

3 If the theoretical construct I am using were inapplicable, what else might account for my results?

Answers to these questions, though painful, would rapidly raise the value of the corpus scientia.

C Delmonte FRSC
Norfolk, UK