Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Integrity of the Marriage and Family Therapy Research Literature: Perceptions and Recommendations

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Integrity of the Marriage and Family Therapy Research Literature: Perceptions and Recommendations

Article excerpt

Reports of falsification, fabrication, plagiarism, and other violations of research integrity across the sciences are on the increase. Joining with other disciplines to actively protect the integrity of the marriage and family therapy (MFT) research literature is of utmost importance to both the discipline and the future of the profession. To inform the issues raised, results are presented of an informal survey among MFT clinical members on their perceptions about the literature together with their preferences for how best to protect its integrity. This article initiates an important discussion about the honesty of MFT research.

At one time the bulk of the marriage and family therapy (MFT) literature consisted of books and speculative essays by the well-known personalities in the field. Beyond the behavioral treatments for marital communication, these early propositions were untested. Research contributions to the MFT literature began in earnest in the 1980s. Later, Gurman and Kniskern (1981) and Gurman, Kniskern, and Pinsof (1986) were the authoritative scientific voices through excellent reviews that were published over several years in different therapy handbooks. Their work established a scientific foundation for the discipline.

Ten years later it was built upon by meta-analytic work distilled from a trove of outcome studies. In 1995 the special edition of the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy on research efficacy/effectiveness punctuated the arrival of MFT as a science-based discipline and practice (Pinsof & Wynn, 1995). Since then, incorporating science into clinical work and developing a science-based literature have become clear trends for MFT (Crane, Wampler, Sprenkle, Sandberg, & Hovestadt, 2002; Sprenkle, 2002, 2005).

Key to the usefulness of a science-based literature is whether the research that comprises it is honest and accurate. Cheating (e.g., fabricating and falsifying findings, plagiarism, exploitation of research participants, and conflicts of interest) has a long history among all the sciences. As of this writing (2006), Google lists over 45,000 websites from a search on "research fraud," including reports that Galileo, Mendel, and other icons in science faked some portion of their data.

Today, science is big business and reports of misconduct have become routine (Steneck, 2002). From a regulatory point of view, the question has changed from whether researchers are cheating to how much is going on. Federal funding agencies are concerned enough about misconduct to staff two investigative offices: the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) at the National Institutes of Health and the Office of the Inspector General at the National Science Foundation. The Office of Research Integrity (2005) has documented an increase in actual reports of misconduct through 2004. For example, in 2002 there were 141 allegations of misconduct reported to the Office of Research Integrity, up from 127 the year before. More recent reports show a slight reduction in the number of institutions reporting new and continuing research misconduct - 106 reported misconduct in 2004, 106 in 2003. Overall, however, the trends for reports of misconduct, at least involving federally funded research, are up.

In an effort to prevent misconduct and to strengthen institutional policies governing research integrity, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has issued guidelines for training federally funded researchers in the "Responsible Conduct of Research" or "RCR" (2000). A stipulation by DHHS that mandated training in RCR (e.g., human subjects protection, conflict of interest, plagiarism, data falsification or fabrication) of all applicants for DHHS funding was subsequently withdrawn; nonetheless, among research institutions in the United States, training in some aspect of RCR (e.g., human subjects protection) of all researchers, including students, is commonplace. Clearly, concern exists about the integrity of the research literature among research institutions and federal agencies responsible for investigating misconduct. …

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