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Misconduct

Definition of Research Misconduct
Research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

(a) Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
(b) 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.
(c) Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
(d) Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

Plagiarism is probably the most serious problem facing academia. Plagiarism includes:

  • Investigators during the peer- review process taking ideas from others' grant proposals or articles and including them in their own publications.
  • Students taking material from the Internet verbatim, without attribution, during write-ups of research.
  • Faculty taking dissertation material from students and including it in publications without giving due credit.

Consequences of Research Misconduct
There are serious consequences to an act of research misconduct that will most likely affect more than the guilty individual:

  • If misconduct is not detected and the findings are in print, the scientific literature will contain wrong information, which other scientists will waste their time trying to replicate. Findings from fabricated or falsified literature could be used erroneously to influence policy or clinical practice.
  • The individual who is found guilty can lose the ability to work in the field or obtain research funding.
  • Other members of the laboratory where misconduct occurs can suffer as the reputation of the laboratory, and its work, is damaged.

Institutions are required to respond to allegations of research misconduct following a set of procedures specified in the federal regulations U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) Public Health Services Policies on Research Misconduct. These procedures require a formal Inquiry, in which a panel of assigned experts reviews the case to determine if the evidence warrants a full investigation. If an Investigation is warranted, a panel of experts will again review the evidence, this time resulting in a final determination of research misconduct. During the inquiry and investigation phase, both the whistleblower and the respondent will be interviewed. It is possible that others will be interviewed or requested to provide information, such as co-workers, witnesses, etc. The Institution is required to report the results of an investigation to DHHS Office of Research Integrity, and to the applicable funding agency. Separately, the University may initiate proceedings to review and take disciplinary and/or corrective actions.

Reporting Research Misconduct
In 1995, the National Academy of Sciences said that "someone who has witnessed misconduct has an unmistaken obligation to act." Government regulations require institutions to have systems in place so that individuals are able to report misconduct confidentially and without retaliation.

Alleging research misconduct can have serious implications. Some guidelines for those who report allegations are:

  • Documentation: When making an allegation of misconduct, clear documentation of who did what, and when they did it, will provide the best chance for a fair and timely resolution of the allegation.
  • Rules and procedures: As soon as someone is involved in an allegation, he or she should review institutional procedures on the issue. A whistle-blower needs to know who should be apprised of the allegation, what constitutes evidence for or against an allegation, how the evidence should be obtained, who will review the allegation, what the whistle-blower's role will be, and how much time the process is expected to take. View UT Arlington's policy and procedures here: https://www.uta.edu/policy/hop/adm/5/701.
  • Perspective: People with little experience in research should seek guidance before making allegations of misconduct. What might appear to be a serious action could be a misunderstanding. It might be appropriate to talk to peers, senior researchers in a team, an ombudsperson, or the individual in question.
  • Dispute resolution: Some allegations of research misconduct might be resolved through other means, such as conflict resolution. This involves dealing with a problem as soon as possible; striving for an agreement rather than disagreement; emphasizing the problem, not the people involved; and using a third party, such as an ombudsperson, to clarify issues if necessary.
  • Motivation of a whistle-blower: Whistle-blowers should be aware that they may suffer retribution for their actions and that institutions are responsible for a misconduct inquiry and investigation. They should also distinguish between facts and speculation and not guess at the motives of others. Whistle-blowers should ask questions rather than draw conclusions.

At UT Arlington, the Vice President for Research, Dr. Carolyn Cason, is the Responsible University Official (RUO) for Research Integrity. Suspected incidents of research misconduct should be reported immediately to the RUO: clcason@uta.edu or (817) 272-5781.

Available Training

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*Research Misconduct Training Course: Plagiarism, Fabrication, Falsification, Whistleblower
by University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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Additional Resources

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The University of Texas at Arlington: Policies and Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Misconduct in Research and/or Scholarship **Under Revision**

 

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DHHS Office of Research Integrity: Policy on Plagiarism

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