Questionable research practices & research misbehaviors

What is this about?

Research misbheviors, or questionable research practices (QRPs), are a threat to research integrity and to the validity of science. While research misconduct, in particular fabrication, falsification and plagiarism have a high impact on science, they rarely occur. Research misbheviours, however, are estimated to occur frequently. While conceivibly having a lower impact on individual cases, the aggregreated impact is estimated to be much higher (1-4).

Why is this important?

QRPs are actions that concern trespassing ‘methodological principles that threathen the relevance, valdity, trustworthiness, or efficiency of the study at issue’ (5). QRPs can be divided over four main areas of the research process: the study design, data collection, reporting and collaboration. QRPs are estimated to occur far more frequently then serious misconduct, and therefore pose a threat to trust and truth in science. Under the current system QRPs are rewarded in the form of a higher number and more prestigious publications. Indeed, sloppy science as described above appears to have a strong “fitness to survive” (6).

For whom is this important?

Students, PhD Students, Research subjects, Scientists, Principal investigators, Researchers, Research institutions, Supervisors, Postdocs, Universities, Funders, Junior researchers, Senior researchers

What are the best practices?


According to research integrity experts who participated in a survey (5), there are a number of QRPs that occur frequently and have a high impact on science. In relation to study design, for instance, QRPs include presenting misleading information in a grant application or ignoring risks of unexpected findings or safety risks to study participants, workers or environment. Under data collection falls behaviour such as collecting more data when noticing that statistical significance is almost reached or keeping inadequate notes of the research process. in relation to reporting, examples of QRPs are hypothesizing after the results are known (HARKing), concealing results that contradict earlier findings, or not publishing a study with negative results. Moreover, selective citing to enhance your own findings or pleasing editors and colleagues is reported to often occur. QRPs that fall under collaboration are demanding or accepting authorship for which you do not quality and reviewing your own papers. In addition, the misbehaviour that is estimated to occur the most and have a high impact on truth is insufficiently supervising junior coworkers. The misbehaviour that occurs the most and has the highest impact on trust is using published ideas of others without referencing.


A way to counter QRPs could be to create awareness about research integrity issues and alter the current reward system. Instead of rewarding the number of publications, alternative aspects that could be rewarded include a researcher's commitment to pre-registration, data sharing and open science.


1. Martinson BC, Anderson MS, De Vries R. Scientists behaving badly. Nature 2005 Jun 9;435:737-8.
2. Fanelli D. How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data. PloS one 2009;4(5):e5738.
3. Swazey JP, Anderson MS, Lewis KS, Louis KS. Ethical problems in academic research. American Scientist 1993;81:542-53.
4. Steneck NH. ORI: Introduction to the responsible conduct of research. Government Printing Office; 2007.
5. L.M. Bouter, J. Tijdink, N. Axelsen, B.C. Martinson, G. ter Riet. Ranking major and minor research misbehaviors: results from a survey among participants of four World Conferences on Research Integrity. Res Integrity Peer Rev, 1 (1) (2016), p. 17
6. Smaldino, P. E. & McElreath, R. The natural selection of bad science. R. Soc. Open Sci. 3, 160384 (2016)

Iris Lechner contributed to this theme.

Latest contribution was May 29, 2019