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Introduction: In this study, we tested a simple, active “ethical consistency” intervention aimed at reducing researchers’ endorsement of questionable research practices (QRPs).

Methods: We developed a simple, active ethical consistency intervention and tested it against a control using an established QRP survey instrument. Before responding to a survey that asked about attitudes towards each of fifteen QRPs, participants were randomly assigned to either a consistency or control 3–5-min writing task. A total of 201 participants completed the survey: 121 participants were recruited from a database of currently funded NSF/NIH scientists, and 80 participants were recruited from a pool of active researchers at a large university medical center in the southeastern US. Narrative responses to the writing prompts were coded and analyzed to assist post hoc interpretation of the quantitative data.

Results: We hypothesized that participants in the consistency condition would find ethically ambiguous QRPs less defensible and would indicate less willingness to engage in them than participants in the control condition. The results showed that the consistency intervention had no significant effect on respondents’ reactions regarding the defensibility of the QRPs or their willingness to engage in them. Exploratory analyses considering the narrative themes of participants’ responses indicated that participants in the control condition expressed lower perceptions of QRP defensibility and willingness.

Conclusion: The results did not support the main hypothesis, and the consistency intervention may have had the unwanted effect of inducing increased rationalization. These results may partially explain why RCR courses often seem to have little positive effect.


Published by Research Integrity and Peer Review at 10.1186/s41073-019-0085-3.

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Research Integrity and Peer Review





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