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Research Integrity: Creating and supporting trust in research

Published: 22 September 2022

Andrée le May, Editor-in-Chief of four journals in the NIHR Journals Library*, writes about the NIHR’s commitment to transparency for Peer Review Week 2022 and explains why research integrity is vital for improving everyone’s health.

Now, as much as ever, it is vital for evidence users to be able to trust that health and care research has been designed and carried out to rigorous standards and is reported fully and objectively. Not all research progresses in the way that researchers originally intended, so it is important that any deviations from researchers’ original plans, and limitations encountered during the research, are reported on. Full and open reporting means that anyone wanting to use the research findings can interpret them in an informed and balanced way.

During my career as a researcher, practitioner, and educator I have always relied on using properly conducted and fully reported research. Now as Editor-in-Chief of four journals in the NIHR Journals Library, it is my responsibility to help ensure our published research can be trusted and used effectively and appropriately to improve people’s health and care.

Assuring rigour and integrity

At the NIHR we strive to ensure all our funded work is underpinned by the highest standards of rigour and integrity, so you can have confidence in it. We are signatories of the Concordat to Support Research Integrity. We are also unusual as both a public-sector research funder and a publisher, meaning we can minimise commercial pressures and facilitate high standards throughout a study’s pathway. Each study follows a rigorous process of assessment and monitoring from the application and funding stage, through its active life, to final publication in the NIHR Journals Library. External independent peer-review is important during this pathway to ensure the validity of our research, and avoid the potential for insularity in a single research organisation.

We publish a full account of the research, following relevant reporting guidelines, and referring to each project’s protocols. We publish all results from the relevant research programmes, whether positive, neutral or negative, to minimise publication bias. We also provide links to relevant documents produced during the research.

As with many other publishers, we look to build trust in our research and the validity of the reports we publish by quality-assuring manuscripts using a rigorous independent peer-review process. We use 2–4 reviewers, with relevant expertise, per manuscript. We ask them a standard set of questions about different aspects of the manuscript and feed their responses back to our editors for guidance and the researchers for their comments and actions. We actively check that reviewers do not have competing interests with the researchers.

Peer reviewers’ contributions

I really value the contribution our peer reviewers make. It’s useful for researchers to know what peers think of their work as well as seeing how their manuscripts could be improved or their findings made clearer. Working together as a team – researchers, editors and peer reviewers – helps us to make NIHR-funded research more useful.
We also understand that peer review isn’t infallible and want to hear from and engage with our evidence users. Readers of our journals can respond to published research through the Responses section below each publication and we also have a clear corrections and retractions policy.

The NIHR relies on peer review at all stages of the research pathway to ensure that our funded research meets high standards of research integrity and ultimately makes a difference to the lives of patients and the public.

The future

The NIHR Journals Library ensures transparency in its reporting of research so that evidence users can trust that they are reading a full and unbiased account. To get our research to research users as quickly as possible we are developing a new threaded publication approach. This involves each component of a study being published as individual articles, complemented by an overall synopsis, which draws together all the strands of the project to provide a full account of the research. This approach will help us maintain transparency and enable our research to be published as soon as it is ready.

We are also developing the way we work with reviewers to ensure we meet the needs of a diverse set of communities. With the launching of the journal, Global Health Research, in the coming months, we are particularly focused on reaching peer reviewers from lower- and middle-income countries.

* Andrée le May is Editor-in-Chief of Health and Social Care Delivery Research, Programme Grants for Applied Research, Public Health Research and Global Health Research, which are all part of the NIHR Journals Library.

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