Scientific Misconduct in Singapore
A little wake-up call in the New Year of the Rooster seems somewhat appropriate as Scientific Misconduct is on the rise, globally and in Singapore as well. Last year a few cases were highlighted, such as Professor Ravi Kambadur who was fired from the NTU.
Closer to ‘Psychology Matters’ was the case of Associate Professor Noel Chia Kok Hwee NIE/NTU), who resigned in April 2016 after which more than twenty of his papers were retracted. Noel Chia had published numerous articles and books related the learning disorders/disabilities such as autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, hyperlexia, specific language impairment etc. Twenty of his articles were retracted from the American Journal JAASEP for which he and his wife Angie Ng Gek Tee and other co-authors published numerous articles from 2008 onwards in collaboration with the Learning Disabilities Centre Singapore (LD Centre for short). Angie Ng Gek Tee was the owner, centre manager and principal therapist of the LD Centre (located in a multi-storey carpark in Bukit Batok).
Some psychologists may have misconceptions regarding academic articles that have been peer reviewed and subsequently published. After discussing the reliability of the data mentioned in an article, one local psychologist revealed that “With published journal articles, readers expect the professional integrity of the research. We would have to trust that the reviewers of the journal have done the necessary to ensure the reliability of the data collection”. However, I like to point out the statement from editors such as Prof Giuliani from JAASEP (and likely many others) who stated the following:
"When university professors and professionals throughout the world submit research articles to JAASEP, it is never questioned as to whether the data are real or have been fabricated. There has been and will always be, the belief that what is being submitted is truthful in 100% of its wording" http://www.naset.org/4480.0.html
In other words, reviewers do not ensure the reliability of the data, and therefore it would be up to the readers to do their own critical thinking. Questions one should consider after reading articles should include: How exactly have the data been obtained, who provided the funding of the project, have professionals mentioned in the study or who contributed data in the study been acknowledged by full name and contact details, etc.
One of the local universities, the NTU, has provided ‘guidance notes’ on their website related to authorship and acknowledgements for its researchers: http://research.ntu.edu.sg/ResearchIntegrity/Pages/Guidance-Notes.aspx
Despite all the guidance and declarations that educational institutions put in place to keep researchers on the right track, there are numerous retractions globally and daily updates can be obtained from the website ‘Retraction Watch’: http://retractionwatch.com/
Another crucial factor is for the reader to check the Journal in which the articles has been published. Academics in educational institutions have been cautioned not to publish in Journals or with Publishers and not to be in any way associated with those that are in the Jeffrey Beall’s list, including refusing to be on their editorial boards. In 2016-2017 more than one thousand Journals/Publishers were included in this list. Only just recently, this website has gone dark although it can still be accessed through the following link:
Editors from Journals are to follow guidelines from the Committee on Publications Ethics (COPE); http://publicationethics.org/
The COPE website offers individual flowcharts on several topics such as: How to respond to whistle-blowers, changes in authorship, conflict of interest, what to do if you suspect fabricated data and more guidelines as how to conduct their own investigations; http://publicationethics.org/files/Fabricated%20data%20B.pdf
When scientific misconduct (such as plagiarism, fabrications of data etc.) is suspected, a reader can also report this to the Research Integrity Office at the relevant educational institution. Although Professor Vaux from Melbourne (Australia) published an interesting article related to this: https://theconversation.com/from-fraud-to-fair-play-australia-must-support-research-integrity-15733
In Singapore, concerns may also be reported to the Ministry of Education (MOE); the Higher Education Operations Division (HEOD) which oversees the Universities. In other countries, there are independent offices: The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in the US and for example the UK Research Integrity Office (UKRIO).
If a reader has concerns or questions related to an academic article, there is also the option to highlight this at the following website: https://pubpeer.com/
Prof David Vaux provided his views and recommendations regarding promoting scientific integrity and finding ‘red flags’ in: http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/16hai/Vaux.html
The World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI) was organised for the first time in Lisbon (Portugal) in 2007 whereby researchers and experts from around the world develop guidance for promoting integrity in research in a global context. This year, in May, the Conference will be held in Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and the two central themes are transparency and accountability; http://www.wcri2017.org/
The Research Integrity Officer (RIO) from the NTU Singapore, Mr Tony Mayer from the UK, is a member of the Organizing Committee.
Lastly, since there are gaps in every system and Universities may have some rotten apples who operate individually or in small groups, Psychologists should stay vigilant!