As the world becomes increasingly complex and diverse, universities and research institutions must clearly define and promote inclusivity as cornerstones of research integrity from the leadership levels down, said University of Cape Town (UCT) Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe.
Dr Moloi-Motsepe’s address at the opening plenary of the 7th World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI) from 29 May to 1 June in Cape Town was delivered on her behalf by UCT Deputy-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Internationalisation Professor Sue Harrison. It is the first WCRI to be held in Africa.
Moloi-Motsepe, the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Motsepe Foundation, was recently honoured by Credit Suisse as a Woman of Impact, “an extraordinary woman who is making change happen in the world”.
The announcement was made at an annual event hosted by Credit Suisse at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. The 24 May event brought together the top women leaders at the WEF to celebrate the achievements Moloi-Motsepe and her co-awardees: Geetha Murali, chief executive officer of Room to Read; and TIME Woman of the Year, Amanda Nguyen.
Research integrity in an unequal world
Other WCRI welcome plenary speakers were Dr Rocky Skeef of the National Research Foundation; Buti Manamela, the deputy minister of higher education, science and innovation; and Professor Glenda Gray of the South African Medical Research Council, who spoke about research integrity and ethics in the context of the Sisonke study, which showed real-world vaccine effectiveness against Omicron.
Over 700 delegates from across the globe will be attending the live and virtual presentations over the four days. The theme is “Fostering Research Integrity in an Unequal World”.
“UCT recognises the importance these global conferences have had over the last 15 years in advancing the field of research integrity, both as an academic field in its own right and as something that every researcher and institution needs to take seriously. And we hope to make an important contribution to this ongoing journey,” said Moloi-Motsepe.
“We must ensure that sound research integrity principles and methods are entrenched at all stages of our work.”
She said UCT’s Vision 2030 commits the university to further growth as a research-intensive institution.
“Our vision is guided by the purpose of unleashing human potential to create a fair and just society and to work in and with African institutions and scholars to co-create a sustainable global future. I cannot imagine us achieving this vision or helping to fix some of the wicked problems the world faces without trustworthy, relevant and valuable research as a cornerstone of our efforts,” she said.
“In turn, this means that we must ensure that sound research integrity principles and methods are entrenched at all stages of our work. And I believe this is true for all research institution.”
Trust, credible knowledge
The conference theme is pertinent for two reasons, she said. The first is about establishing trust in leaders in institutions in countries with entrenched inequality. The second concerns maintaining a research ecosystem where institutional culture and context support research integrity.
Regarding trust, Moloi-Motsepe said, many societies seem to be “losing cohesion”. This had been underscored by debate at the WEF on the scale of the world’s challenges: accelerating climate impacts, food and energy crises, and the war in Ukraine, as well as economies made vulnerable by inflation and debt overhang.
“These challenges require us to have better national and global conversations aimed at increased cooperation,” she said. “But to have these conversations, and to rebuild trust, requires a fact-based view of reality. And this itself has suffered in recent years. A shared body of basic, credible knowledge is an essential public good, and one that has perhaps had been taken for granted.
“When we focus as institutions and individuals on research integrity, we are doing something very important. We are helping to secure and maintain the credibility of shared knowledge as a cornerstone of difficult democratic conversations that must be had if we are to deal with the challenges of this century.”
“We have a highly competitive context, a small funding pool, inequities in research collaboration, and under-resourced research institutions.”
The second challenge relates to the current research ecosystem. While most researchers want to produce excellent trustworthy research, some aspects of the ecosystem can undermine this.
“In such a context, there’s always a risk of detrimental research practices, which have been estimated by some research studies as being quite common,” she said. “Such practices can do more damage through the research enterprise, and to its perceived credibility than more blatant forms of misconduct.”
The conference would provide opportunities for delegates to learn how research-producing institutions can build institutional culture and context that support research integrity.
“This avoids instances of research misconduct, and detrimental practices that can ruin reputations and undermine the credibility of the institution as a whole.”
Africa as a future powerhouse
The significance of hosting the WCRI in Africa for the first time pointed to the continent’s growing influence over the world’s fortunes.
“On plausible assumptions, by 2080 one in three people in the world will be African, and almost half the world’s children will be African. Technological innovation, governance improvements, and regional integration can harness the demographic potential and secure a prosperous continent as part of a prosperous world.”
“Part of the process must be ensuring that we produce students who value inclusion and equality as well as diversity.”
Moloi-Motsepe said that on her travels in Africa she had been struck by the passion and creativity of its youth.
“We must develop research capabilities that help us to address local and regional challenges more effectively and harness this youthful energy in the service of innovation and transformation.”
Africa’s wealth of indigenous African knowledge can also help unlock seemingly intractable problems, through relevant, sound research and knowledge generation from African researchers and institutions, “resting on research, integrity and partnerships with well-resourced institutions”.
This is where leadership would prove pivotal, Moloi-Motsepe said.
“Part of the process must be ensuring that we produce students who value inclusion and equality as well as diversity. Diversity is not a threat, but a potential source of strength to a society, to an organisation and to research communities.”
Diversity also ensures that knowledge claims are robust, she said.
“It ensures that they are tested in a wider range of contexts than might otherwise be the case. It is important to find meaningful concrete ways to ensure diversity and inclusion concerns are captured at the level of research integrity.”
Cape Town Statement
Moloi-Motsepe expressed hope that the Cape Town Statement emerging from the conference will contribute to building research integrity at a critical time in world history.
“As you know, many of the previous conferences have produced significant statements such as the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity, and more recently, the Hong Kong principles for assessing researchers. I’m very glad to hear that this conference aims to have as an important output the Cape Town Statement on Diversity, Equity and Fairness in Research Contexts.
She added, “This is welcome, exciting and comes at exactly the right time. There will be an opportunity at the conference to discuss and contribute to this process and I encourage you to participate and share your knowledge and experience to make this a truly powerful statement.”
Co-chairs of the WCRI are Dr Lyn Horn, the director of UCT’s Office of Research Integrity; Lex Boter, Professor of Methodology and Integrity, Amsterdam; and Dr Sabine Kleinert, the senior executive editor of Lancet.
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