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Open Access Research article

Misconduct in research: a descriptive survey of attitudes, perceptions and associated factors in a developing country

Patrick I Okonta1* and Theresa Rossouw2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Faculty of Health Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Delta State University, Abraka, Delta State, Nigeria

2 Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

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BMC Medical Ethics 2014, 15:25  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-25

Published: 25 March 2014

Abstract

Background

Misconduct in research tarnishes the reputation, credibility and integrity of research institutions. Studies on research or scientific misconduct are still novel in developing countries. In this study, we report on the attitudes, perceptions and factors related to the work environment thought to be associated with research misconduct in a group of researchers in Nigeria - a developing country.

Method

A survey of researchers attending a scientific conference was done using an adapted Scientific Misconduct Questionnaire-Revised (SMQ-R). Initial descriptive analysis of individual items using frequencies and proportions for all quantitative data was performed. Thereafter, Likert scale responses were transformed into dichotomous responses. Fisher exact test was performed for associations as appropriate. A two-tailed p-value of less than 0.05 was accepted as significant.

Result

Half of the respondents (50.4%) were aware of a colleague who had committed misconduct, defined as “non-adherence to rules, regulations, guidelines, and commonly accepted professional codes or norms”. Over 88% of the researchers were concerned about the perceived amount of misconduct prevalent in their institution and 96.2% believed that one or more forms of scientific misconduct had occurred in their workplace. More than half (52.7%) rated the severity of penalties for scientific misconduct in their work environment as low. Furthermore¸ the majority (56.1%) were of the view that the chance of getting caught for scientific misconduct in their work environment was low.

Conclusion

Researchers in Nigeria perceive that scientific misconduct is commonplace in their institutions, but are however worried about the negative effects of scientific misconduct on the credibility of scientific research. We recommend that researchers be empowered with the knowledge and virtues necessary for self-regulation that advance research integrity. Research institutions should however also step into their role of fostering a responsible research ethic and discouraging misconduct.

Keywords:
Research misconduct; Perception; Attitudes; Associated factors