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Misconduct in Science

(Policies and Procedures for Dealing with Misconduct in Science for Faculty and Students Engaged in Research Supported by the Public Health Service)

Definition of Misconduct in Science
Misconduct means falsification of data, plagiarism, or misappropriation of others' ideas, in the course of proposing, conducting, or reporting research or in performing other professional duties.

  1. FALSIFICATION OF DATA CAN RANGE FROM SELECTIVE REPORTING, SUCH as purposeful omission of conflicting data with the intent to falsify conclusions, to outright fabrication.
  2. PLAGIARISM IS REPRESENTATION OF ANOTHER's work as one's own. Subtle forms of plagiarism include inadequate citation and footnoting, along with presentation of the same data in more than one publication without citation.
  3. MISAPPROPRIATION OF OTHERS' IDEAS MEANS THE UNAUTHORIZED USE of privileged information, such as acting upon an idea obtained from someone's research proposal during peer review.

Goals of a Policy at Carleton
Any institution of higher education having one or more faculty members who receive research support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or any other agency under the Public Health Service (PHS) is required to develop policies and procedures for handling allegations of scientific misconduct in projects supported by the PHS. In the face of some well-publicized incidents of fraud in research in recent years, the public is demanding that institutions take more responsibility for ethical conduct in research and related activities. Although Carleton strives to promote a climate of honesty in research, the College should nevertheless recognize the possibility of fraud in the conduct or reporting of research and be willing to address any cases of alleged fraud. At the same time, policies for handling fraud should not be so obtrusive as to dampen the spirit of inquiry or threaten the close working relationships and the trust among scientific colleagues. The process must distinguish deliberate fraud from honest errors and debatable interpretations of incomplete data. Errors and questionable interpretations are normally corrected by additional research and are part of the process of scientific investigation.

The Key Elements of the Policy
Faculty engaged in research should be well-informed on what constitutes ethical conduct in research. To buttress this point, the dean of the college will send annually to appropriate faculty a reminder of their obligation to be cognizant of ethical issues. An orientation for each student beginning work with a faculty mentor should be standard practice and might include asking each student to read On Being a Scientist (22 pp.) by the Committee on the Conduct of Science, National Academy of Sciences, published by the National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1989.

Because of the possibility of misconduct, however remote, the ethical climate must include the understanding that someone bringing a complaint will be heard and that his or her rights, as well as the rights of someone suspected of unethical behavior, will be protected. In addition, inquiries and investigations must be conducted with the utmost concern for confidentiality for both the person bringing an allegation (the "complainant") and the person accused of wrongdoing (the "respondent"). Due process as generally understood in this country must be the cornerstone of the procedure for responding to an allegation. For our definitions and procedure we draw heavily from Framework for Institutional Policies and Procedures to Deal With Fraud in Research, by the Association of American Universities et. al., originally published on November 4, 1988 and revised on November 10, 1989.

The procedure consists of four stages:

  1. An inquiry to determine whether the allegation or suspected misconduct warrants further investigation.
  2. When warranted, an investigation to collect and thoroughly examine evidence.
  3. A formal finding.
  4. Appropriate disposition of the matter, including required reporting to the Office of Scientific Integrity (within NIH) at each stage of the procedure.

An inquiry into possible fraud can be generated by an allegation of misconduct or other evidence of questionable behavior in research. A complainant should report an allegation, including evidence, to the dean of the college, who, after judging the preliminary evidence to be significant, will initiate an inquiry, usually by designating another senior officer to conduct the inquiry. The dean will be sensitive to possible conflicts of interest when naming the dean's designee, and both will be careful to maintain confidentiality for the complainant and the respondent. If the complainant later decides against pursuing an allegation, the dean's designee may nevertheless continue the inquiry without participation of the original complainant, if sufficient independent evidence is available. The dean's designee will consult legal counsel when legal issues arise, and the respondent and/or the complainant may engage counsel at their own expense.

The inquiry stage must begin soon after the allegation has been made and should be completed within 60 days. At the start of the process the dean's designee must inform the respondent of the charges, the identity of the complainant, and the procedure to be followed. During the inquiry the dean's designee will question both the complainant and the respondent about the allegation and the evidence pertinent to it. To quote Framework ,"An inquiry is not a formal hearing; it is designed to separate allegations deserving of further investigation from frivolous, unjustified, or clearly mistaken allegations. "

At the conclusion of the inquiry the dean's designee must determine whether or not an investigation is warranted and produce a written report on the inquiry and the decision. He or she must make the decision known to the respondent and the complainant, if the latter has continued to participate in the inquiry. According to Public Health Service regulations governing research sponsored by that agency, the Director of the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI) must be informed at this point if there is a recommendation to investigate allegations regarding any such research. This notification must occur within 24 hours of the decision if a criminal violation is judged a possibility.

If the allegation is found to be without merit, no action is needed other than to inform all involved parties. The College must preserve all documentation relating to the case for three years. Every effort must be made to keep the proceedings of the inquiry confidential and the identities of the complainant and respondent unknown to anyone other than those who participated in the inquiry. Finally, the dean should seek to protect the complainant from retaliation and may take appropriate disciplinary action against anyone engaging in retaliation.

If the dean of the college, after receiving the recommendation by the dean's designee, determines that an investigation is warranted, that investigation must begin within 30 days of the conclusion of the inquiry. Its purpose is to examine all the evidence and determine whether fraud has occurred. A committee chaired by the dean's designee is responsible for the investigation. The other committee members will consist of the chair of the respondent's department (or another tenured member if the chair is the respondent), another tenured member of the department or a tenured member of a related department, and two faculty members from outside the College who are familiar with the respondent's research specialty. The latter three people will be selected by the dean in consultation with the dean's designee, each of whom should be certain that none of the four members has a conflict of interest or relation with anyone connected with the case that would compromise independence of judgment.

All involved parties, including the complainant and the respondent, are obligated to cooperate with the investigation and to provide information relating to the case. The respondent should receive all relevant information in a timely manner to facilitate preparation of a response. The respondent has the right to hear all testimony, to address the charges and evidence, and to have legal counsel at his or her own expense.

The agency sponsoring the research in question, and in particular the OSI, must be informed of significant developments in the investigation. The Director of the OSI must be informed if an investigation is terminated before completion, or if criminal violations may have occurred. Most important, the OSI must be told about "any development during the course of the investigation which discloses facts that may affect current or potential Department of Health and Human Services funding for the individual(s) under investigation or that the PHS needs to know to ensure appropriate use of federal funds and otherwise protect the public interest" (Title 42, Subchapter D of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 50). Again, these reporting requirements, as well as the other procedures described in this document, apply only to research supported by agencies belonging to the PHS.

Except under special circumstances, the investigation should be completed within 120 days. Special circumstances include a large volume of material to be studied, inability of the outside experts on the investigation committee to render judgments quickly, and lack of cooperation from the respondent. If the committee is unable to meet the deadline, it should submit an interim report to the dean of the college, describing the progress of the investigation to date and the reason(s) for the committee's failure to meet the deadline.

The findings should be submitted in writing to the dean of the college, the president, the respondent, and the funding agency. The finding can range from no fraud and no scientific error, through no fraud but significant scientific error, to serious fraud. If no fraud was found but the complainant's allegations were made in good faith, the College must make a strong effort to see that no retaliation is directed toward the complainant. If, on the other hand, the complainant's charges have been determined to be malicious and unfounded, disciplinary action against the complainant may be taken. Furthermore, the College must make "diligent efforts" to protect and, if necessary, restore the reputation of anyone wrongly accused. The College must send a complete report to the OSI in accordance with 42 CFR Part 50, published in the Federal Register of August 8, 1989.

The investigative committee presents its findings to the dean of the college and the president, who after review of the case will accept, modify, or reject the findings. In extraordinary cases the Board of Trustees may accept a petition from the respondent to hear an appeal from the findings.

If fraud or serious scientific error has been identified, the president and the dean of the college will take disciplinary action, as provided for in the Faculty Handbook. Possible actions include a letter of reprimand, suspension of duties for a stated time, salary reduction, or an initiation of action toward dismissal for cause and a hearing before the Faculty Judiciary Committee. Concerned parties not already notified should be informed at the end of the process. They include sponsoring agencies, collaborators, co-authors, editors of journals in which fraudulent research was published, professional societies, and, where appropriate, criminal authorities.

Adopted by the Board of Trustees on June 21, 1990.

Last revised June 21, 1990
Keywords: misconduct, science, fraud

Last Reviewed: Jul 20th, 2015

Maintained by Dean of the College Office