The Training Unit of Institut Curie: pioneer in fostering scientific integrity

Scientific integrity

The concept of scientific and research integrity occurs subconsciously in each person, but in some rare cases can be completely ignored.  Because the number of misconduct cases coming to light has recently tremendously increased, the need to foster proper practices, unbiased and rigorous science has become a priority for governments, universities, scientific organisations and institutes and more generally, the scientific community. Although the reasons leading to scientific fraud are numerous, we can cite as one of the main “driving force”, the pressure to publish, irrespective of the scientist’s career stage.

In 2016, the “rapport Corvol” made 16 proposals to promote scientific integrity in France. Among them, one proposal was to organize courses for students. But, the training unit from Institut Curie was the predecessor. Indeed, the idea to tackle this issue and promote awareness was envisaged back in 2011 by Claire Hivroz and Vassili Soumelis at the Institut Curie.  Their first step, with the help of the training unit and Pr. Claude Huriet, the president back then, was to organise a symposium on Scientific Integrity entitled "Let's Talk Ethics", the first of its kind in France, in April 2012. This allowed them to establish contact with other researchers interested in this problem and to create an event likely to raise awareness to scientists from the Institut Curie and other institutes in France. During the symposium, there were some shocking results presented by Pr. Melissa Anderson (University of Minnesota), who reported that 33% of the scientists surveyed (3,247 out of 7,760) admitted, in an anonymous questionnaire, having already defrauded during their career (published in Nature, 2005). Dr. Nils Axelsen shared his experience, as a referent for scientific integrity, at Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen. He reported that the occurrence of a resounding scandal involving a Danish researcher in neuroscience had pushed the universities and institutes in Denmark to put tools in place to fight against fraudulent scientists.

Following this symposium, other researchers at Institut Curie joined Hivroz and Soumelis to put together a half-day course on scientific integrity for PhD students. These researchers included Marie Dutreix, Carsten Janke, Olivier Lantz, Nicolas Manel, Sergio Marco, Matthieu Piel and Graça Raposo. From May 2013, this course was made compulsory to all new PhD students joining Institut Curie but also open to all members of Curie. Along the years, new collaborators, Maud Delost, Elaine Del Nery and Cécile Sykes joined the team.

As someone who has attended this course, I can add that there were many concepts in the course that seemed trivial at first, but could have significant impact if executed wrongly, like the concept of self-plagiarism.

Soon after, in January 2015, Institut Curie signed the ‘French National Charter for Research Integrity’ (see charter below), which set the criteria for a rigorous and honest scientific approach. More recently, since February 2018, the training unit and Claire Hivroz with “Atelier des jours à venir” have organised several workshops about mentoring and scientific integrity for young principal investigators.

Supported by the TU and the dedicated members, the work continues to promote and raise awareness on scientific integrity and they hope to put in place the necessary tools to develop an environment where the issues of scientific ethics and responsible conduct of research are at the core of the development of scientific projects and careers at the Institut Curie!

French national charter for research integrity

Scientific integrity - team
Scientific integrity - team