Misconduct in perspective

ORI Introduction to RCR: Chapter 2. Research Misconduct

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Research misconduct has understandably received considerable public attention. Researchers who act dishonestly waste public funds, harm the research record, distort the research process, undermine public trust, and can even adversely impact public health and safety. Research misconduct policies, whether Federal, state, institutional, or professional, identify seriously inappropriate behaviors and establish procedures for dealing with them.
Judged on the basis of the number of confirmed cases, misconduct apparently is not common in research. Over the last decade, PHS and NSF combined have averaged no more than 20 to 30 misconduct findings a year. This puts the annual rate of misconduct in research at or below 1 case for every 10,000 researchers. However, before making too much of this assessment, two important cautions need to be kept in mind.
First, the number of confirmed cases is probably less than the number of actual cases. Underreporting is to be expected, as it is in criminal and other types of inappropriate behavior. Moreover, several studies have suggested that researchers do not report suspected misconduct, even though they should (see Korenman, Additional Reading). Since every case of misconduct can potentially undermine public support for research, researchers should take their responsibility to look out for and report research misconduct seriously.
Second, the responsibility to avoid misconduct in research is a minimum standard for the responsible conduct of research, so the fact that most researchers do not engage in research misconduct does not necessarily imply that the level of integrity in research overall is high. Responsible research requires careful attention to many other expectations for appropriate practice, as discussed in the remainder of the ORI Introduction to RCR.

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