Policy: Misconduct and Fraud in Science
Scientific misconduct is defined as “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research.” It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretation or judgments of data.
Types of Fraud or Deviance in Academic Research
Deviant actions may be grouped into four categories:
- Scholarly fraud by falsification of data,
- Abuse of confidentiality, and
- Deliberate violation of regulations.
- Falsification of data undermines the basic principle on which the scientific process depends. Falsification of data ranges from sheer fabrication through selective reporting, including the omission of conflicting data.
- Plagiarism is an attempt by one individual to receive credit for the work of someone else. Outright plagiarism is generally easily detected in areas of research that are actively pursued and is, therefore, rare. However, inadequate citation and parsimony in referencing submission of the same data in more than one publication by the same author, and similar abuses do occur.
- Abuse of confidentiality is a significant act of fraud in an environment that depends on peer review. It is quite distinct from plagiarism and more difficult to detect since such abuse does not usually involve verbatim duplication of another’s work. In the present environment, researchers freely discuss their ideas in research proposals submitted to potential sponsors. Proposals usually include extensive proposals submitted to potential sponsors. Proposals usually include extensive data to support the ideas. The ideas and preliminary data may be reviewed by departmental review panels. In addition, detailed studies are submitted to professional journals and subjected to review by professional colleagues long in advance of eventual publication. Opportunities to abuse confidentiality arise at many points during these processes. Moreover, abuse of confidentiality can occur not only by the actions of primary reviewers but also by the actions of those with whom reviewers share privileged information.
- Deliberate violations of regulations or rules adopted to provide appropriate mechanisms to protect patients, human subjects, other persons, and animals while not fraudulent in the traditional sense, must be considered to be deviant as to undermine the integrity of the research process.
Policies and Procedures
OSU Center for Health Sciences’ handling of allegations of research misconduct will be conducted in four stages, as follows:
- An inquiry to determine whether the allegation or related issues warrant further investigation.
- An investigation, when warranted, to collect and thoroughly examine evidence.
- A formal finding.
- An appropriate disposition of the matter.
Definition: Information gathering and initial fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of misconduct warrants an investigation.
The Director of Regulatory Compliance (hereinafter referred to as Director) will be the administrator responsible for hearing allegations of misconduct. The Director should also:
- Provide education about misconduct
- Interpret the institution’s policy
- Counsel staff
- Disseminate the policy
The Director will confidentially counsel an individual who comes forward with an allegation of misconduct. The Director will seek to assist in the resolution of any concern through whatever OSU Center for Health Sciences (CHS) processes may be appropriate to the particular case. If the Director determines that the concern is properly addressed through policies and procedures designed to deal with misconduct in research, the inquiry and investigation procedures will be discussed with the individual who has questions about the integrity of the research project. If the individual chooses not to make a formal allegation, but the Director believes there is sufficient cause to warrant an inquiry, the matter will be pursued.
Purpose: The Director will initiate an inquiry when in his or her judgment, a warranted allegation, complaint, or request involving the possibility of misconduct is made. In the inquiry stage, factual information is gathered and expeditiously reviewed to determine if an investigation of the charges is warranted. The inquiry is not a formal hearing; it is designed to separate allegations deserving of future investigation from frivolous, unjustified, or clearly mistaken allegations.
Structure: It is the responsibility of the Director to ensure that the inquiry is conducted in a fair and just manner. At the discretion of the Director, the inquiry can be handled by the Director alone or by an Inquiry Board designated by the Director in consultation with the Vice Provost of OSU CHS and the appropriate Dean.
Members of the Inquiry Board (minimum of three) will be chosen from within and/or outside OSU CHS.
Those involved in inquiring into the allegations will be selected in full awareness of the closeness of their professional or personal affiliations with the complainant, or the respondent, and any potential conflicts of interest will be thoroughly examined and clarified before the Inquiry Board begins its work. It is also important that the Inquiry Board have the appropriate scientific expertise to assure a sound knowledge base from which to work.
The Director will consult, if necessary, with the university’s legal counsel to minimize the risk of liability for actions taken in the conduct of the inquiry.
Process: The Director is responsible for notifying the respondent in writing within a reasonable time of the charges and of the process that will follow. During the inquiry, confidentiality is required in order to protect the rights of all parties involved.
The Director will assume responsibility for disseminating the information to the appropriate individual(s). Notification will be made in writing and copies filed in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP). It should be noted that uncooperative behavior may result in an immediate investigation and other OSU CHS sanctions.
It is required that the inquiry phase be completed within 60 days of the initial written notification of the respondent. A written report will be prepared that states what evidence was reviewed, summarizes relevant interviews and includes the conclusions of the Inquiry Board. The individual(s) against whom the allegation is made shall be given a copy of the report of inquiry. If the respondent comments on that report, the comments may be made part of the record. If the Board anticipates that the established deadline cannot be met, a report citing the reasons for the delay and progress to date, will be submitted for the record and the respondent and appropriately involved individuals will be informed.
OSU CHS shall maintain sufficiently detailed documentation of inquiries to permit a later assessment of the reasons for determining that an investigation is not warranted. Such records shall be maintained in the ORSP for a period of at least three years after the termination of the inquiry, and shall upon request be provided to authorized federal or state sponsored personnel.
Findings: The completion of the inquiry is marked by a determination of whether or not an investigation is warranted. There will be written documentation to summarize the process and state the conclusions of the inquiry. The respondent will be informed by the Director whether or not there will be further investigation. If warranted, OSU CHS must undertake an investigation within 30 days of the completion of the inquiry.
OSU CHS’s decision to initiate an investigation must be reported in writing to the cognizant federal office or any other sponsor of the respondent’s research, on or before the date the investigation begins. At a minimum, the notification should include the name of the person(s) against whom the allegations have been made, the general nature of the allegation, and the application or grant numbers involved.
The respondent will be removed as signatory for any grants on which he or she is Principal Investigator. As the respondent still is eligible to all faculty rights of salary, rank, and title while the investigation is carried forward, OSU CHS must utilize sources other than grant funds if a portion of the respondent’s salary is designated to be paid by the sponsoring agency.
If an allegation is found to be unsupported but has been submitted in good faith, a letter of explicit exoneration will be issued by the Director/Vice President. The proceedings of an inquiry will be held in the strictest confidence to protect the parties involved. If confidentiality is breached, OSU CHS will take reasonable steps to minimize the damage to reputations that may result from inaccurate reports. Allegations that have not been brought forward in good faith will lead to severe disciplinary action.
Definition: “The formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if misconduct has occurred.”
An investigation will be initiated when an inquiry issues a finding that the investigation is warranted. The purpose is to further explore the allegations and determine whether misconduct has been committed. Additional information may emerge that justifies broadening the scope of the investigation beyond the initial allegations. The respondent will be informed when significant new directions of investigation are undertaken. The investigation will focus on accusations of misconduct as defined previously and examine the factual materials of each case.
Structure: It is the responsibility of the Director to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair and just manner. The investigation will be handled by an Investigatory Board designated by the Director, and the Director will designate a Chairman. Members of the Investigatory Board (minimum of three) may be chosen from within and/or outside OSU CHS. Those involved in investigating the allegations will be selected in full awareness of the closeness of their professional or personal affiliation with the complainant or the respondent; and any potential conflicts of interest will be thoroughly examined and clarified before the Investigatory Board begins its work. It is also important that the Investigatory Board have the appropriate scientific expertise to assure a sound knowledge base from which to work.
Process: The Director will initiate an investigation promptly, and the complainant and respondent will be notified in writing of the investigation. All involved parties are obligated to cooperate with the proceedings in providing information relating to the case. Necessary information should be provided to the respondent in a timely manner to facilitate the preparation of the response. The respondent should have the opportunity to address the charges and evidence in detail.
OSU CHS may wish to adopt a mechanism which will allow interim administrative action to be taken when justified by the need to protect the health and safety of research subjects and patients, or the interests of students and colleagues. Administrative action could range from slight restrictions to suspension of the activities of the respondent.
The investigation should ordinarily be completed within 120 days of its initiation. This includes conducting the investigation, preparing the report of findings, making that report available for comment by the respondent(s), and submitting the report to the sponsoring agency. If they can be identified, the person(s) who raised the allegation (complainant) should be provided with those portions of the reports that address their role and opinions in the investigation.
The nature of some cases may render the time period difficult to meet. OSU CHS’s ability to complete an investigation within the specified time period will depend heavily upon such factors as the volume and nature of the research to be reviewed and the degree of cooperation being offered by the respondent. In some instances, an interim report may be submitted to the Director with a request for an extension.
Findings: Findings of the Investigatory Board will be submitted to the Director in writing. The respondent will receive the full report of the investigation. When there is more than one respondent, each shall receive the full report of the investigation. When there is more than one respondent, each shall receive all those parts that are pertinent to their role. All federal agencies, sponsors or other entities initially informed of the investigation must also be notified promptly in a separate report compiled by the Director. The Director will retain the findings of the investigation in a confidential and secure file.
Investigations into allegations of misconduct may result in various outcomes, including:
- A finding of fraud
- A finding of serious scientific misconduct, short of fraud
- A finding of no culpable conduct was committed, but serious errors were discovered
- A finding that no serious fraud, misconduct, or serious scientific error was committed
An investigation of misconduct may disclose evidence that requires further action even in those cases in which no fraud is found.
If an investigation is launched on the basis of a complaint, and no fraud or misconduct is found, no disciplinary measures shall be taken against the complainant; and, in every effort shall be made to prevent retaliatory action against the complainant if the allegations are found to have been made in good faith. If the allegations are found to have been maliciously motivated, disciplinary actions may be taken against those responsible.
Appeal and Final Review
OSU CHS may choose to provide respondents with an additional appeals process, at this point, through a written appeal of the Investigatory Board’s decision. Appeals will be limited to failure to follow appropriate procedures in the investigation or arbitrary and capricious decision making. New evidence may warrant a new investigation. The appeal will be filed promptly after a finding has been made. OSU CHS will specify a Senior Administrator not involved in the decision of the Investigatory Board to hear the appeal. After the appeal is conducted, OSU CHS may also wish to provide for a final review by the Director/Vice President or his/her designee. The decision of the review is final.
Responsibility for determining the nature and severity of OSU CHS’s disciplinary action is specified in the policy relating to regular faculty grievance and appeal procedures. Examples of actions that are available to OSU CHS are:
- Removal from a particular project
- Letter of reprimand
- Special monitoring of future work
- Salary reduction
- Rank reduction
- Termination of employment
If the investigation involves research which is sponsored by a federal agency, the final report which is submitted to the cognizant office of the agency must describe the policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted, how and from whom information was obtained relevant to the investigation, the findings, the basis for the findings, and include the actual text or an accurate summary of the views of any individual(s) found to have engaged in misconduct, as well as a description of any sanctions taken by OSU CHS.
Consideration will also be given to formal notification of other concerned parties not previously notified as to the outcome of the case. The parties may include:
- Non-federal sponsoring agencies
- Co-authors, co-investigators, collaborators
- Editors of journals in which fraudulent research was published
- State professional licensing boards
- Other institutions, sponsoring agencies and funding agencies with whom the individual has been affiliated
- Professional societies
- Where appropriate, criminal authorities
The possibility exists that during the course of the investigation, the individual involved may resign from employment. In this instance, the investigation will continue to its full conclusion. Also, once dismissed or resigned from OSU CHS, an individual found guilty of scientific misconduct may move on and engage in dishonest activities elsewhere. Thus, it is an institutional responsibility to thoroughly check the references, licensing, and accreditation status of all new faculty and staff.
Amber Hood, MS, CPIA, CIP
Director, Regulatory Compliance and Research Facilities
Biological Safety Officer
Research Office, 918-561-1413