Research and Publication Ethics Knowledge and Practices in the Health and Life Sciences: Findings From an Exploratory Global Survey

Luchuo Engelbert Bain,1,2 Ikenna Desmond Ebuenyi,3 Jean Jacques Noubiap4


To examine the levels of awareness, preferences, experiences, and practices of researchers in the health and life sciences regarding research and publication ethics.


In this cross-sectional study, a questionnaire was deployed on Google Forms to a global audience. Reminder emails and WhatsApp messages containing a brief description and a link to the online survey were sent through the various platforms until no new responses were received after 3 reminders. The form captured information regarding the sociodemographic characteristics of respondents. The questionnaire explored the level of awareness, training, attitudes toward, preferences, and experiences with research ethics committees. Regarding publication ethics, the awareness of respondents regarding the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship criteria and their experiences with ghost authorship were evaluated. All researchers working in the health and life sciences were eligible to participate in the study.


A total of 500 researchers were contacted, and 264 responded (53.0%). Only 36.7% of respondents were aware of the ICMJE authorship criteria. Less than a quarter (22.0%) of the respondents were aware of the existence of an ethics code. Respondents’ experience with their most recent ethics approval application was poor (11.4%), good (36.0%), and excellent (4.2%). The practice of research teams to include authors with no or limited significant contribution to an article was frequent (44.3%), common (29.5%), and systemic (10.6%). More than 41.7% of the respondents had ever conducted a study involving human participant research without prior ethical approval. Respondents’ experience with their most recent ethics approval application was poor (11.4%), good (36.0%), and excellent (4.2%). Major challenges in obtaining ethical approval were too much bureaucracy (47.3%), ethical approval application cost (5.3%), and unduly long review turnaround in receiving feedback and decisions (3.8%). Most respondents (83.0%) worked in institutions that hosted a research and ethics committee. Less than half (42.4%) of the respondents had been formally trained in publication ethics.


Rates of ethical misconduct, such as having no ethical approval prior to conducting a study or gift and ghost authorships, were unacceptably high. Formal training in research and publication ethics should be institutionalized in the courses in universities and research institutions. Academic journals and funders have the duty to support researchers to uphold research ethics and research integrity standards. Institutionalization and awareness raising regarding these best practices are highly needed.

1Lincoln International Institute for Rural Health, College of Social Science, University of Lincoln. Brayford Pool, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, UK, lebaiins@gmail.com; 2The Pan African Medical Journal, Yaoundé, Cameroon; 3School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, University of Dublin, Ireland; 4Centre for Heart Rhythm Disorders, University of Adelaide and Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, Australia

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

None reported.