Global research integrity statement calls for fairness and equity

Bias in research and its benefits, power imbalances and other inequities has long plagued scientific collaboration. Now ethics experts from around the world have published the Cape Town Statement on Fostering Research Integrity through Fairness and Equity, with 20 recommendations to guide all stakeholders in achieving more just research practice.The Cape Town Statement was published by the World Conferences on Research Integrity (WCRI) last Friday 24 March 2023. A commentary by the authors appeared in Nature on the same day.The statement differs from other research integrity guidelines and tools in recognising that unfair and inequitable practices can harm the integrity of all research, across all disciplines and contexts. “We hope that by doing so, this statement will strengthen the call to recognise fairness and equity as an essential component of research,” the authors write.It is a call to action that, it is hoped, will help turn the global conversation on inequity and unfairness in research, into changes in practice by all stakeholders, thereby tackling imbalances in global research collaborations that they argue “stem from a complex mix of racial discrimination, systemic bias and major disparities in funding and resources”.Bioethicists and other research experts invested an extraordinary amount of consultation and effort in conceptualising and drafting the statement. It flowed from the seventh World Conference on Research Integrity held in Cape Town in South Africa in May 2022, under the theme “Fostering Research Integrity in an Unequal World”.The statement is drawn from discussions that involved some 300 people from 50 countries, including 16 African countries and five in Latin America. In all, discussions held before, during and after the Cape Town conference took 18 months.The proposals are grouped around values identified at important at the seventh WCRI. “These values include diversity, inclusivity, mutual respect, shared accountability, indigenous knowledge recognition and epistemic justice (ensuring that the value of knowledge is not based on biases related to gender, race, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status etcetera),” the statement says.The WCRIThe World Conferences on Research Integrity kicked off in Lisbon in 2007 and are held every two to three years, with the aim of fostering the exchange of information and discussion about the responsible conduct of research.Some of the previous conferences have forged guidelines – the Singapore and Montreal statements, the Amsterdam Agenda and the Hong Kong Principles. A driving force behind WCRI and chair of its foundation is Lex Bouter, professor emeritus of methodology and integrity at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University Medical Centres.The authors of the Cape Town Statement are: Lyn Horn of the University of Cape Town; Sandra Alba of KIT Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam; Gowri Gopalakrishna of Maastricht University; Sabine Kleinert of The Lancet; Francis Kombe of the African Research Integrity Network; James V Lavery of Emory University in the United States; and Retha G Visagie of the University of South Africa, on behalf of the statement working group.

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