Doing integrity in a competitive world

It seems that competition and evaluation are here to stay. Therefore, a researcher will have to be equipped to withstand the pressure they cause. Some steps towards acquiring such abilities are straightforward: courses in ethics can provide researchers with conceptual tools to think through consequences of actions, and courses in philosophy of science equip them with them with an understanding of what the production of veritable knowledge requires. In a general sense, researchers should assume the responsibility of being critical about the question what would be best for the whole of scientific knowledge, and whether whatever they are doing is in fact best for that body of knowledge, or rather for their own interests.

But doing good research is never only a matter of individual duties. It is also about setting the right context, such that people are enabled and stimulated to do well. To a large extent, this is the responsibility of senior researchers and research managers, but not exclusively. Also the individual researcher, no matter how junior, has an influence on how the context operates, and how the context influences their work. It is about contributing to a practice of transparency and constructive discussion, and about recognizing peers along more substantive lines than a mere h-index.

While research assessment and the ensuing competitive nature of academic research life do not unequivocally lead to fraud, they may entail that we lose sight of what it means to do good research. They may lead us to think differently about what really matters to research. Being aware of this, and taking the responsibility of cultivating this awareness, is the first duty of researchers in face of a seemingly neutral system of measurement.