Concordat to Support Research Integrity

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has been receiving evidence on a range on subjects from AI to vaping. There have been six to date. The area of most interest to me has been the subject of the next imminent report, resulting from the hearings and consultations on Research Integrity. Recent announcements have heralded its coming: SEVENTH SPECIAL REPORT TO BE PUBLISHED,

The Science and Technology Committee has received responses from the Government and UK Research and Innovation to its ‘Research integrity’ Report published by the Committee on the 11 July 2018.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee response on Research Integrity was published on Thursday 13 September at 11.00am as the,
The reason to highlight this to you now is because it sets out the officially expected protocol for academics and academic institutions to uphold their ethical duty, in being accountable and transparent in their handling of allegations of Questionable Research Practices and Research Misconduct. These standards are not new, but it is a welcome move to formalise aspects of the academic system that have until now relied as much on trust as peer-reviewed pressure.
Trust takes on all it’s forms in the context of academia and its adaptable ability to self-correct. Without that mechanism, there is no confidence in results, no experts, no measure of truth, and no accumulation of knowledge. None of those things are an absolute measure of our net progress (as far as Kuhn or Feyerabend would posit), but without them, progress is impossible.

The guidelines for scientific publication (see The Committee for Publishing Ethics COPE) are widely accepted throughout academia,

  • authors are expected to produce content to the highest academic standards. 
  • Editors are expected to allocate suitable reviewers.
  • Reviewers are expected to be honest about their suitability.
  • Authors are expected to respond to post-publication challenges to published material.
  • Editors are expected to try persuade authors if they prove reluctant in providing errata. 
Furthermore, if an author, or any member of academic staff is alleged to have committed research misconduct, that transgresses the Questionable Research Practices that produce mistakes that can be dealt with by submitting corrections, then this requires intervention by an authority. For a university member of staff, it is most often their employer whom should be approached. NTU stipulate that the relevant contact is Sutton’s Dean of School, and that is to whom I and others have submitted our correspondence, including several complaints. Despite this, NTU claimed to have received no allegations of misconduct by their staff, or cases of misconduct considered by formal procedure, during that same period, specifically, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017. This they did in a report submitted to the Parliamentary Committee mentioned above.
These are the responsibilities that I have been constantly requesting, Sutton, his employer Nottingham Trent University (NTU), his professional body the British Society of Criminology, plus anyone else who has been facilitating Sutton’s dissemination of falsehoods, especially the Carse of Gowrie Sustainability Group (the Carsonians), in whose interest I began all this, just so they wouldn’t be duped by misinformation.
Admittedly, that has not turned out too well. I have now received a Cease and Desist Letter from Rebecca Jenkyn, Head of Governance and Legal Services and Clerk to the Board of Governors of NTU,
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My immediate thought in response was that I honestly don’t think NTU know the academic incompetence of the man they are defending, as far as it has been shown to be lacking, herein and elsewhere by others. This is not intended as a threat, but it follows that they also do not know how much reliance this then puts on their lawyers being able to construct a prosecution that merely alludes to Sutton’s accuracy. It is hard to imagine how such a case would be heard out without testing his claims, given that they are the basis for his being held to account on this and other blogsites, and the motivation for his own unprofessional behaviour. As already demonstrated, Sutton’s work does not qualify for protection from academic freedom on 2 counts: it is of insufficient quality, and Sutton admits to not holding expertise in the subject area. These are prerequisites for academic freedom to apply.
Hence, to save committing themselves to public exposure, my sincere recommendation to NTU is to check some of Sutton’s claims against the evidence given on this blogsite, before it is inevitably deleted, ironically because of their own remonstration to WordPress. They may take solace in the knowledge that the opportunity to view the comprehensive refutation of his research will still be available via various mirror sites, already established in preparation for such an eventuality. You see, when dealing with someone as deceitful and manipulative as Sutton, it is necessary to protect against immoral attacks. When he claimed to have had no hand in approaching my University, obviously, he had. If so low as to stoop to trying to discredit someone, instead of debating the subject at hand, then there is no limit to what he may do, and it’s time to start backing up your work and distributing copies.
So, having failed to silence myself and colleagues by attacking us directly, and ignoring our refutations, and attempting to sabotage my relationship with the University of Edinburgh, Sutton is now drawing deeply upon the legal services within NTU; the might of the institute against a lone individual. How courageous, and all because he will not step up to his responsibility as an author, that trusted rôle that we expect someone to honour and in which they ought to be proud of their work, not conniving to displace his challengers with crude might. By not being decent and entering into correspondence with myself and others who have made complaints, Sutton and NTU are essentially acting like playground bullies. Stuck for choice, having rejected intelligent discourse, they must resort to menacing with threats, to quash resistance.
My dilemma is obvious: do I stand my ground to defend truth and the honest values that ought to underpin academia, or do I crumble, in the interests of family, the avoidance of risk, and the ruminations of Lefty “Stabber” McNaugthin, the light sleeper of HMP Saughton, Edinburgh? With recent headlines, such as, “Inmate’s throat ‘ripped open’ in horror Saughton prison attack“, I’m certainly doubting that ethical pursuit of knowledge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a great disservice that Sutton and NTU have done to academia. The pursuit of knowledge should be above all their gutter-sniping. What happened to intellectual endeavour?

To end on a more positive note, the concordat for Research integrity, to which NTU has signed (and that they explicitly mention is their guide in producing, “a short statement on research integrity and misconduct is produced annually and presented to the University’s Academic Board and Board of Governors”), received input from the UK Government, and the national agency for funding science and research, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Their responses to the Committee’s Sixth Report were positive in their outlook for a more transparent and responsible system, where they move to install an independent body for investigating misconduct. How exciting, and what a relief that the onus is taken off whistleblowers who inevitably end up feeling like outcasts: the work is insular and rarely shared, and it is an admittedly cynical rôle to adopt.
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They also recommend a more stringent monitoring of universities, particularly those receiving funding from UKRI, and quit right too. Universities who benefit from Government funding should be held to account if their responses to allegations of misconduct by their staff does not meet the standards set out in the Parliamentary concordat. To wit, it is worth noting that appearing on the UKRI Research Organisation contact list, of research organisations holding funding from UKRI-coordinated Councils, NTU does indeed appear,
In summary,
  • Sutton is demonstrably wrong to rely on Google Books.
  • He is also unqualified to pursue his current course of research.
  • This can be shown in his “myth busting” and in the research involving Darwin, Wallace and Matthew.
  • He has not honored his duty to debate challenges to his work.
  • His publishers have not honored their duty to provide appropriate peer review, nor exert pressure on Sutton to be responsive to criticism.
  • NTU have not been fair and transparent in their responding to allegations of misconduct.
  • They have actually hidden such complaints from the Parliamentary committee considering research integrity.
  • NTU are rightly proud of their achievements in research and student satisfaction, but their dealing of Sutton’s demonstrable failings has not been laudable.
However, there is nothing stopping any of the aforementioned parties engaging with this case, inspecting the evidence against Sutton, and responding in a responsible and more compliant fashion.
Posted in NTU