Research Misconduct

Research Misconduct

Research misconduct as defined by the Federal Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is the "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results" (citation). 
  • 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, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
  • Research misconduct does not include differences of opinion.
The OSTP also describes the legal threshold for proving misconduct charges. 
  • 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.
It is important to note that when using this definition of research misconduct, it only represents "a minimum standard for measuring acceptable behavior, not a standard for judging all behavior." (ORI - Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research). This should not be read to mean that all other behavior is acceptable; here the context is specifically confined to publically funded research in order to ensure that the research is accurate and that it not been create through "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism". 

Reporting and Investigation

According to Federal policy, reporting and investigation of research misconduct is primarily the responsibility of researchers and research institutions, since research is generally understood as a self-regulating profession.  Self-regulation does, however, require "conscientious community participation".  Individual researchers "must take responsibility for their own actions, take misconduct seriously, and report apparent misconduct by other researchers."
Every institution that receives PHS funding must have procedures in place for receiving and investigating reports of research misconduct. These procedures must include:
  • the designation of individuals who are authorized to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct,
    provisions for an initial inquiry to determine whether the allegations have any merit,
  • provisions for a formal investigation to reach conclusions about the truth of the allegations,
  • the designation of an individual who is authorized to weigh (adjudicate) the conclusions reached in the investigation and impose administrative actions to redress the misconduct (sanctions) or take steps to vindicate the person charged, and
  • provisions for reporting findings to ORI.
(ORI)
UAB employees should review the following expectations related to Responsible Conduct of Research (from the UAB Policy Concerning the Responsible Conduct of Research and Other Scholarly Activities sections 1-7 of the Policy Statement): 
  1. UAB shall accept as employees only those individuals whose career activities clearly demonstrate the highest ethical standards.  To this end, the relevant credentials of all potential employees are to be thoroughly examined by the appropriate department/unit heads or their representatives in order to verify the claimed accomplishments of the candidate.  The responsible department/unit heads or their representatives shall seek further confirmation of the candidate's accomplishments during the normal procedures of personal interviews and letters from references.  Proof of faculty credentials shall be maintained by the responsible dean or department head in accordance with appropriate records retention policies and schedules.
  2. Faculty members and any individuals who supervise colleagues, fellows, technicians, staff, or students are expected to provide them with appropriate guidance and counsel to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards.
  3. The UAB academic and research community is encouraged to promote individual awareness of the importance of maintaining high ethical standards in Research and scholarly activities and to discuss issues related to Research ethics in formal courses, in seminars, and by other informal means.
  4. Results of Research and scholarly activities should be supported by verifiable evidence.  Faculty and staff should maintain sufficient records or other documentation of their studies for at least six years following the most recent use of such records or information contained in such records.  It is the responsibility of senior investigators and scholars to develop among junior colleagues and trainees the necessary respect for careful recording and preservation of primary data.
  5. The UAB research and academic community is encouraged to engage in free discussion of results, to share data and techniques, and to avoid secrecy in the conduct of scholarly activities, provided such free discussion and sharing are consistent with the proper protection of intellectual property.  It should be remembered that independent confirmation of results is important in direct proportion to the potential significance of the results in question and may be crucial to the establishment of new concepts.
  6. Faculty members are responsible for the quality of all Reports based on their own efforts or on the collaborative work of students, technicians, or colleagues, especially those which bear the faculty member's name.  The same standards of scientific integrity apply to abstracts as to full-length publications.  Abstracts or other Reports of preliminary findings should indicate clearly that the findings are preliminary.   Any Report of Research results must include the name of at least one faculty member, employee, or trainee who assumes full professional and ethical responsibility for the contents of the Report.  Each contributor to the Report must assume full responsibility for their own contributions to the Report.  UAB supports the practice of explicitly describing the role(s) of each contributor in the conduct of the project and preparation of resulting Report(s).
  7. Any faculty member, employee, or trainee who has reason to suspect any other faculty member, employee, or trainee of Research Misconduct with regard to the conduct or reporting of Research has the responsibility of following up these suspicions in accordance with the procedures outlined below.
Additionally, researchers should be familiar with all UAB policies, procedures, and guidelines related to RCR

Basic Protections

While researchers who engage in research misconduct are certainly exposing themselves to considerable professional risk - in the case of UAB personnel, the UAB President shall determine what actions are appropriate, including, but not limited to, discharge from employment at UAB or, in the case of a student, expulsion from UAB.  The President will notify the UAB Research Integrity Officer who in turn will work with the appropriate UAB offices to notify any sponsors supporting the Research in question and any journals or other publications which may have been affected by the publication of results of that Research.  The President’s decision is final. (see the UAB Policy Concerning the Responsible Conduct of Research and Other Scholarly Activities for more information).  Additionally, the Federal Government can debar researchers who commit misconduct from receiving federal funds for a defined period of time. 
It should be noted that any research misconduct allegations may not be made public until such time as they have been fully investigated and confirmed.  As a crucial exception to this rule, if the misconduct could pose a threat to public health, as in a clinical trial, it must be brought to the attention of the person heading the trial, a person with oversight authority, or both, and steps taken to safeguard the safety of the subjects in the trial. 
Complainants (also known as Whistleblowers) should only report potential misconduct in good faith.  UAB Duty to Report and Non-retailiation Policy specifically prohibits retaliation for good faith reporting, even if the accusations are not sustained.  This is vital to the preservation of professional self-regulation of the research community.

UAB Ethics Hotline

The UAB Ethics Hotline has more information related to reporting wrongful conduct, including that related to RCR and research misconduct.  UAB employees do have a responsibility to report, and the website has information for the proper procedures and contacts for reporting issues.  Contact the University Compliance Office with any questions you may have related to the UAB Ethics Hotline.  Additional information for specific contacts related to Compliance issues can be found here.

Research Integrity Officer (RIO)

(205) 934-9693