Peer-review in science 'can be improved', MPs report

By Daniel Boettcher
BBC News

image captionThe committee recommended peer-review training in particular for early-career researchers

MPs have recommended improvements to the way scientific papers are checked before they are published.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report said this "peer-review" process of science journals should be more transparent.

Their recommendations include making scientific data publicly available, and formal training for reviewers.

Their report also recommends the appointment of an oversight body to ensure integrity in science research.

"Peer-reviewed" has become a byword for "scientifically sound and approved", but complaints have arisen in recent years that the process can sometimes work to suppress radical new ideas, and can fail to catch fraudulent research.

The committee said ethical and scientific misconduct damages peer-review and science as a whole, referring to examples like the MMR controversy.

Dr Andrew Wakefield, who suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council last year after it found him guilty of serious professional misconduct over the way he carried out his research.

'Broader impact'

MPs want to see more consistent training for those involved in the review process, particularly for researchers in the early stages of their careers. In addition, they say appropriate use of internet tools could allow broader scrutiny of new research.

"Innovative approaches - such as the use of pre-print servers, open peer-review, increased transparency and online repository-style journals - should be explored by publishers," their report said.

The chair of the committee, Andrew Miller MP told BBC News: "The vast majority of science undertaken in this country is done with a high degree of integrity and the peer-review process broadly speaking is working well but we feel that improvements can be made."

One of the report's findings was that the oversight of research integrity was unsatisfactory. The MPs recommend that there should be an external regulator to deal with suspected cases of ethical misconduct, though the committee accepts that these are rare.

Mr Miller said: "It's not a case of how many times mistakes get made and how many times things slip through the net.

"It's the potential seriousness of errors or fraudulent activity that should cause us concern, and principally we need to think not just about the individual incident but the broader impact on public confidence in science."

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