A recent study published in BMJ Open brings to the fore a field that has been little-reported on to date: reporting and publication practices among health researchers in lower/middle income countries (LMICs; defined by the World Bank). The authors highlighted several potential areas of concern, relating to guest authorship, undeclared conflicts of interest, plagiarism and redundant publication.
Authors of Cochrane reviews working in LMICs were invited to complete a questionnaire that aimed to ascertain whether respondents thought that certain reporting practices were acceptable and whether these behaviours were common at their institutions. Further information was obtained through in-depth interviews. The study revealed that:
- Guest authorship is common, with 77% of participants reporting its occurrence at their institution. In-depth interviews revealed that although participants felt authorship rules are simple, they are not consistently applied.
- There is a lack of awareness about conflicts of interest and how they may affect research. Forty percent of participants indicated that their colleagues had not declared conflicts of interest in the past.
- As in high-income countries, academic status and power can affect behaviour. In some regions, junior researchers are obliged to include senior researchers on papers when they do not meet authorship criteria.
- Institutions and culture can fuel bad practice, due to an overemphasis on publications in career progression (as can also be seen in high-income countries).
- Plagiarism may be an issue; while most respondents (96%) agreed that it is unacceptable, many (37%) were aware of its occurrence among their colleagues.
In addition to undermining research integrity, poor reporting and publication practice may have a detrimental effect on the continued development of the scientific industry in LMICs. The study authors conclude that “future research in LMICs should explore ways to promote research integrity at various levels within institutions”.