August 11, 2021

New School of Medicine committee manages research misconduct cases

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square research misconductA new program in the School of Medicine has been established to improve the handling of research misconduct cases. Effective July 15, the School of Medicine Committee on Responsible Research Practices (CRRP) aims to strengthen culture, ethos, and morale around research best practices.

Peter Prevelige Jr., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology, serves as the School of Medicine Liaison for research integrity. Prevelige will assist Matthew Ronning, assistant vice president for Responsible Research Practices, and Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., senior associate dean for Research Compliance and Administration, to promote a culture of research integrity, objectivity, and responsible practices.

Together, they identify peer panel members to review research misconduct allegations and evaluate specific concerns. “Our goal is to signal to the community a change in attitude and culture,” says Ronning. “We want people to be excited about compliance and give them the tools they need.”

The CRPP fills a gap in advocating for best practices across the school while coexisting as a resource for preventive measures. It also helps mitigate the consequences of misconduct such as loss of funding, disciplinary actions, and more.

The first goal of the CRRP was to develop a pool of scholars within the School of Medicine who are attentive to current discipline-specific standards of conduct who can serve on inquiry and investigation committees.

Around 40 tenured associate or full professors are members of the committee, drawn from 20 departments within the SOM.

The panel of scholars meets quarterly to discuss the progress of committee workgroups who collect and analyze publicized cases of scientific misconduct, review current and evolving expectations for scientific integrity, and develop best practices in research management.

Members of the group will rotate on and off of research misconduct and similar compliance-related inquiries.

“The creation of this committee will help leadership look deeper into issues to determine root causes, as well as how to avoid future problems,” says Prevelige.

The committee hopes to minimize three main areas that qualify as misconduct:
• Intentional Duplicate
• Intentional Falsification and Fabrication
• Intentional Plagiarism

"One of my major goals is to eliminate concerns that only certain types of cases are reviewed and to promote transparency in research misconduct. I want researchers to know the new committee aims to be fully transparent and always learn from our mistakes," says Ronning.

Responsible conduct training for researchers is required by federal regulations. There are national ethics and standards to follow, some of which are overwhelming or complex. A primary goal of the committee is to provide clarity and organization through training.

“As a group, we can synthesize and deliver tools to help the SOM research community tightly defend against the pitfalls of (often unintentionally) questionable behavior before it happens,” says Ronning.

In addition to forming a panel of experts and ambassadors, the committee also plans to host a quarterly seminar series with guests from UAB and beyond, such as program officials and administrators, journal editors, experts in program/project management, and members of the NIH Director’s office.

The committee also plans to hold workshopping events for UAB researchers to network and discuss best practices.

Ronning and Prevelige explain that the seminars and workshops will help train on best practices.

“Compliance is integral to what we do,” says Darley-Usmar. “The establishment of this committee is preventative. It aims to help School of Medicine researchers be the most successful they can be in their work.”

Overall, the CRRP hopes to grow public trust and admiration in the school, UAB, and academic research in general.