How we’re supporting research integrity through peer review

Side view of female lab worker in wheelchair experimenting with fluids

Peer Review Week 2022 focuses on research integrity. Find out the steps we’re taking to create and support trust in our peer review processes and what we fund.

Peer review is the assessment of research funding applications by others in the same academic field and is the cornerstone of our work at the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Through clear processes, guidance and scoring criteria we ensure a robust, fair, and transparent peer review process. This is underpinned by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) principles of assessment and decision making.

But we’re also continuously adapting to the changing research landscape. By listening to our communities, we’ve recently launched new and improved guidance and initiatives to ensure integrity, ethical practices and assurance throughout our peer review processes.

Improving diversity in research

From this month onwards, if you’re submitting an application that involves the use of animals, or human or animal tissues and cells, then the research should use both sexes. Unless there’s a really good reason not to use both.

This new requirement was advised by a working group of experts to improve reproducibility of research and to make findings relevant to a wider population.

Before making the change, we sought and responded to feedback from the community which was a big help. If you have any specific questions, contact us on diversityinresearch@mrc.ukri.org

Together with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research we also ran a joint online seminar. This explores common challenges and gives practical steps, tips and advice for including both sexes in experiments.

Challenging bias, upholding fairness

To help tackle bias in peer review we have just published our new and improved bias guidance for peer reviewers and board and panel members. The guidance supports expert assessors in identifying the various kinds of biases they may identify in themselves and others. It looks at bias from both a reviewing and panel context and provides specific strategies to help individuals mitigate bias.

Our bias documents are ever evolving. As we witness and experience different biases, we learn new lessons and will continue to update our guidance. We encourage the community to also identify bias and welcome any suggestions for enhancement to equalitymrc@ukri.org

We are also embedding the MRC Active Bystander Scheme into our funding panels. The aim of this is to help foster a culture of inclusion and active bystander intervention.

Through the programme we are:

  • training both MRC staff and panelists
  • empowering anyone in the funding panel to challenge bias and safeguard decision making
  • providing clear channels of escalation to ensure that everyone is comfortable and confident to intervene.

Recognising and managing risks

Peer review plays an important part in the self-regulation and scrutiny of the research community. We recognise that certain avenues of research aimed to advance knowledge and improve health and wellbeing have the potential to be misused to cause harm.

To safeguard against this, we ask applicants to identify these risks and explain how they will mitigate against them within their application. We then ask our external experts to consider whether potential issues and risks of research misuse have adequately been addressed.

Making research accessible and reproducible

In order to make scientific progress, it’s crucial that all of the research we support is:

  • reproducible – obtaining the same results having used the same (original) data, code, methods and analysis
  • replicable – obtaining the same results but using new data to answer the same scientific question
  • accessible – making research results readily available to others.

UKRI’s 2022 to 2027 strategy champions open research, building on this with the new open access policy. The new policy aims to be clear, consistent and easy to follow, making the outputs of UKRI-funded research more accessible and reusable.

Maintaining transparency

MRC provides data on funded research across our portfolio; specifically, what, who and where. Annually UKRI publishes diversity and geographical data.

These data, with other evidence and engagement with the research community, helps identify what we need to do to increase equity, diversity and inclusion across the research and innovation system.

Across UKRI we actively encourage applicants from across the whole of the UK and under-represented groups, appreciating the diverse talent that this can bring. See more on what we are doing to address under-representation and active participation.

Working together

It’s been challenging but refreshing to think hard about how we can improve trust in research across the board.

We hope these changes make a difference by improving the integrity, transparency, inclusivity and diversity of our peer review processes and funded research. Shaped by feedback from our research community they will continue to evolve, and we welcome your ideas for how we can go further.

Find out more

You can learn more by:

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This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.