Factors associated with scientific misconduct and questionable research practices in health professions education

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Perspectives on Medical Education








Misconduct; Questionable research practices; Research ethics; Survey


© 2019, The Author(s). Introduction: Engaging in scientific misconduct and questionable research practices (QRPs) is a noted problem across fields, including health professions education (HPE). To mitigate these practices, other disciplines have enacted strategies based on researcher characteristics and practice factors. Thus, to inform HPE, this study seeks to determine which researcher characteristics and practice factors, if any, might explain the frequency of irresponsible research practices. Method: In 2017, a cross-sectional survey of HPE researchers was conducted. The survey included 66 items adapted from three published surveys: two published QRP surveys and a publication pressure scale. The outcome variable was a self-reported misconduct score, which is a weighted mean score for each respondent on all misconduct and QRP items. Statistical analysis included descriptive statistics, reliability and correlation analysis, and multiple linear regression modelling. Results and Discussion: In total, 590 researchers completed the survey. Results from the final regression model indicated that researcher age had a negative association with the misconduct score (b = -0.01, β = -0.22, t = -2.91, p <0.05), suggesting that older researchers tended to report less misconduct. On the other hand, those with more publications had higher misconduct scores (b = 0.001, β = 0.17, t = 3.27, p < 0.05) and, compared with researchers in the region of North America, researchers in Asia tended to have higher misconduct scores (b = 0.21, β = 0.12, t = 2.84, p < 0.01). In addition, compared with those who defined their work role as clinician, those who defined their role as researcher tended to have higher misconduct scores (b = 0.12, β = 0.13, t = 2.15, p < 0.05). Finally, publication pressure emerged as the strongest individual predictor of misconduct (b = 0.20, β = 0.34, t = 7.82, p < 0.01); the greater the publication pressure, the greater the reported misconduct. Overall, the explanatory variables accounted for 21% of the variance in the misconduct score, with publication pressure accounting for 10% of the variance in the outcome, above and beyond the other explanatory variables. Although correlational, these findings suggest several researcher characteristics and practice factors that could be targeted to address scientific misconduct and QRPs in HPE.

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