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The Continuum

Putting Research Integrity to Work: How Best Practices Relate to Research Compliance Issues

There is a continuum of practices from the very good, those that conform to best practices, to the very bad, prosecutable cases of misconduct. All researchers should continue to make efforts to stay on the best practices side of the continuum. Considering the complementary aspects of compliance, education, oversight, and accountability can help researchers ensure that they and their communities maintain best practices.

Image - Bad Practices Lead To Misconduct

The Intersection of the Three Aspects of Compliance With Research Integrity: Education, Oversight, and Accountability

Adapted from the PowerPoint presentation by Jeffrey Cohen at the 2006 SRA meeting in Quebec City, Quebec.


Education is an important component of research integrity (RI) in science. Without an education in RI, scientists may not do the right thing because they do not know what the right thing to do is. The Guidelines and Questionable Practices sections of this site offer education in best practices in image processing. The Case Study section teaches users how the use of guidelines intersects with issues of mentoring, authorship and technical training in the context of an actual laboratory. The case study also helps users to identify various temptations and pressures that make misconduct more likely, and to reflect on ways to avoid those temptations.

Since journal editors (VIDEO LINK) play an essential role in defining guidelines, they are in a good position to make suggestions for how to encourage best practices on a university-wide basis. When scientists are proactive by teaching the ethics of responsible conduct of research (RCR) using this site and other tools, the job of enforcing the rules is far easier.


A second way to approach RI is through oversight mechanisms, which can guard against the bad practices that lead to misconduct. Oversight in the case of misconduct is usually performed by university committees convened in response to allegations of misconduct. An oversight committee, with the help of the university’s research integrity officer (RIO), looks over the shoulder of a researcher, reviewing the case to ensure the right thing was done. The knowledge that such oversight mechanisms exist reminds some researchers to conform to best practices. The Misconduct Cases section of the site gives examples in which these oversight mechanisms worked.


Accountability is all about organizing your research notes in a way that is transparent from the very start of your projects. This includes following best practices in recording the data, saving the original data, making it available for inspection, for example by an oversight committee, and always reporting to the public exactly how the data was collected and processed. Following these recommendations gives research records maximum transparency. Transparency in research records contributes to the overall RI of a research group. It is also invaluable in the unlikely event of an allegation of misconduct.


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