Way back in college, I was asked by my teachers to read a short book contrasting the Hebrew term emunah (trust) with the Greek term pistis (belief). The rest of the content of this book is not relevant at present — check it out here if you like — but the distinction stuck with me. And it was brought to mind again recently when I learned the theme selected for Peer Review Week 2022 — “Research Integrity: Creating and Supporting Trust in Research.”
As a sometimes-fractious global society, we’ve just been through a period where high-quality research results have sometimes been actively disbelieved due to psychological and other non-empirical factors, and this mistrust or active disbelief led to negative (and indeed tragic) consequences. Rather than dwell on the sources of that negative skepticism, this year’s theme explicitly offers us the occasion to think about what sorts of factors build trust in research, providing the conditions under which we properly accord trust (emunah) in our beliefs (pisteis) about scholarly and scientific findings.
Several generators, or builders, of trust are commonly identified in the literature. One is consistency – the discipline of working towards a consistent level of outputs. Consistency may well be the most critical component to the trust readers put in a journal’s – or an author’s – brand. Another is transparency – answering questions such as What methods did you use? Where and how were the data collected? And how reliable (i.e., how much trust should I invest in what you say?) should I see these results as? I also find that a little humility goes a long way—tell me where the gaps still lurk, what problems are still unresolved, and you will probably go a long way towards me trusting what it is you say you have found out.
Overall, it seems obvious that trust in research results does not simply fall from the sky, as it were. It is earned instead through consistent application of valid methodology and the rigorous adherence to the peer review process. The phrase “Research integrity” serves as a shorthand for that trust-building rigor.
But that attribute of research integrity comes with a price tag —in my experience, work of the highest quality is never free; it comes at a cost and sometimes with a price in dollars, pounds, euros or other coin of other realms. This might be where the PRW ’22 theme’s notion of support towards building trust in research comes in. Whether it is through government or charitable subsidy, or subscriber fees, underwriter fees or other means: if value is to be created, costs must (somehow) be paid.
I do indeed welcome this year’s theme, and I am looking forward to reading articles on the topic. As William Martin Joel once opined, “it’s a matter of trust.”