ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 2. Research Misconduct
Institutional research misconduct policies generally follow the pattern recommended by the Federal Government, but almost always include some additional elements that for one reason or another are assumed to have local importance. This is particularly true for the definition of research misconduct. Institutional definitions must include some version of FFP, but then sometimes add other practices that also constitute misconduct in the particular local setting. Thus, depending on where a researcher works, any of the following practices could be reported as misconduct in research.
Violation of Federal rules. As will be discussed in later chapters, research is subject to many rules or regulations other than research misconduct policies. Although the violation of a research rule or regulation is not considered misconduct under the common Federal definition of research misconduct, many research institutions explicitly state that the violation of any research regulation is research misconduct.
Abuse of confidentiality. Confidentiality plays a number of important roles in research. Most peer review is done confidentially (see Chapter 10). Researchers also share ideas with colleagues with the understanding that they will not be used or made public without permission (see Chapter 8). Federal regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (see Chapter 3), impose confidentiality requirements on human subjects research. The abuse of confidentiality may not undermine the validity of research data, but it can undermine the integrity of the research process. Therefore, some institutions include such abuses under their definition of research misconduct.
Authorship and publication violations. As will be discussed in Chapter 9, there are well-established guidelines for getting credit for work done (authorship) and making research results known (publication). Some violations of these guidelines do not rise to the level of FFP, as defined in Federal policy. For example, the Federal Government usually does not get involved in disputes over authorship or investigate charges of trivial publication (dividing the results of a single experiment into multiple publications so that there are more to list on a résumé). However, given the importance of the integrity of the research record, some research institutions include authorship and publication violations in their misconduct policies.
Failure to report misconduct. Failure to report many crimes can be considered a crime and result in penalties. This is particularly true if failure to report a crime puts other individuals or society at risk. Research misconduct can put individuals at risk, if, for example, the misconduct affects information that is used for making medical or public decisions. Failure to report research misconduct also undermines professional self-regulation. Therefore, some research institutions include failure to report misconduct in their research misconduct policies.
Obstruction of investigations and retaliation. To emphasize the importance of research misconduct investigations, some institutions also include obstruction of investigations and retaliation against whistle blowers under research misconduct.
Other practices. Early in the evolution of Federal research misconduct policies, the National Science Foundation(NSF) and the Public Health Service (PHS) included a broad provision in their definitions to catch other practices that “seriously deviate” from commonly accepted practices. NSF in particular felt that FFP left out behaviors that could undermine the integrity of the research it funded. While the “serious deviations” clause no longer exists in the common Federal definition, except as a standard for judging FFP, it can still be found in some institutional policies. Researchers therefore need to be aware of the fact that in some settings, actions that seriously deviate from commonly accepted practices can be considered research misconduct.