Research misconduct represents a collection of actions whose distinguishing characteristic is misrepresentation. It is defined by the Public Health Service as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. The most devastating consequence of research misconduct is the undermining of efforts by scientists to replicate and build sensibly on scientific results and the credibility of the scientific process itself within and beyond the scientific community.
The following is an excerpt from Penn’s “Procedures Regarding Misconduct in Research for Non-Faculty Members of the Research Community.” It provides a definition of misconduct and what a finding of misconduct requires.
Research Misconduct Defined
Research misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other serious deviation from accepted practices in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.
- Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
- Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
- Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, or results, or works without giving appropriate credit.
- Serious deviation from accepted practices includes but is not limited to stealing, destroying, or damaging the research property of others with the intent to alter the research record; and directing or encouraging others to engage in fabrication, falsification or plagiarism. As defined here, it is limited to activity related to the proposing, performing, or reviewing of research, or in the reporting of research results and does not include misconduct that occurs in the research setting but that does not affect the integrity of the research record, such as misallocation of funds, sexual harassment, and discrimination, which are covered by other University policies.
The research record is the record of data or results that embody the facts resulting from scientific inquiry, and includes, but is not limited to, research proposals, laboratory records, both physical and electronic, progress reports,. abstracts, theses, oral presentations, internal reports, and journal articles.
Some forms of misconduct, such as failure to adhere to requirements for the protection of human subjects or to ensure the welfare of laboratory animals, are governed by specific federal regulations and are subject to the oversight of established University committees.
However, violations involving failure to meet these requirements may also be covered under this policy or possibly by other University policies when so determined by the responsible committees or institutional officials.
Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.
Findings of Research Misconduct
A finding of research misconduct requires that:
- There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and
- The misconduct be committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and
- The allegation be proven by a preponderance of evidence.
Policies and Guidelines
Here is the link to the complete version of the University’s 'Procedures Regarding Misconduct in Research for Non-faculty Members of the Research Community': https://catalog.upenn.edu/faculty-handbook/iii/iii-c/. This document provides not only the definitions and requirements described in 'Background,' but also jurisdiction and applicable process.
If you checked out ‘Jurisdiction and Applicable Processes’ as they relate to Penn’s procedures regarding research misconduct (see 'Procedures and Guidelines'), you will have noticed much in the way of checks and balances in the stages of inquiry and investigation. Much is made as well of protection of the informant and respondent through confidentiality. Note that the allegation of misconduct is formally engaged when the Vice Provost for Research is contacted. There can be many levels of ‘testing’ by the informant prior to this point to evaluate whether the issue is truly misconduct, or whether the perception of misconduct might be attributable to miscommunication, misunderstanding, naivety, etc. – it depends on the level of certainty of the informant and the level of comfort he or she has in confiding elements of uncertainty to individuals who might provide experience and objectivity, for example trusted colleagues, ombudsmen, and graduate group chairs.
Two textbooks provide excellent discussions of research misconduct. Both are electronically accessible through the Biomedical Library. These are:
Scientific Integrity, F.L. Macrina, 4th ed.
Responsible Conduct of Research, A.E. Shamoo and D.B. Resnick, 3rd ed.
The Office of Research Integrity provides detailed and informative case summaries for those situations in which administrative actions were imposed due to findings of research misconduct. The link is https://ori.hhs.gov/case_summary.