Research misconduct refers to unethical or dishonest practices in the process of conducting and reporting research. It encompasses a range of behaviors that deviate from accepted ethical standards, including fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism of data, as well as other forms of misconduct such as improper authorship attribution, failure to disclose conflicts of interest, or breaches of confidentiality. Research misconduct undermines the integrity of the scientific community and can have significant negative impacts on the reliability and credibility of research findings. It is crucial to identify and address instances of research misconduct to ensure the accuracy, trustworthiness, and ethical conduct of scientific research.
Though not always perfect, the scientific method is currently the best tool we have to gain a better understanding of the world around us. When done honestly and correctly, research and science can yield astounding results that not only change the way we see reality but also how we interact with it. Research misconduct degrades that process by eroding trust in data and wasting time, money, and valuable human effort.
Because the effects of science reach so far into all facets of our lives, it's important that researchers do their work carefully and professionally. When research misconduct takes place, it undermines the role of science in our lives, breeds distrust within and between research institutions, ruins careers, and even puts the public in danger. When our understanding of a topic is compromised, we can potentially make huge missteps that hurt people.
Though the root problem inherent in each type of research misconduct is dishonesty, there are important distinctions between them. Each mode or method of dishonest conduct occurs for particular reasons, and each will compromise the research results in its own way, so it’s important to keep an eye out for the circumstances that lead to them, and how to address these issues should they arise. The three main types of research misconduct are falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism.
Falsification involves a deliberate manipulation or sabotage of the research process to produce a desired result. A dishonest researcher may have many motives for falsifying a study, including a conflict of interest that gives them a stake in the results, a personal belief about the subject matter, or a desire for personal glory. All of these motives compromise the integrity of the results. Falsification can also take several forms, including, but not limited to:
Fabrication is the act of making up results and data that never existed in the first place. Someone who fabricates data and results does so for many of the same reasons as falsification, leading to research that is not actually based on real-world experiments or observations.
Finally, plagiarism happens when someone deliberately presents someone else's work, data, or observations as if they were their own. The data is usually presented without proper citation or attribution.
Research misconduct is a serious matter. It may be tempting for some to think that the effects of misconduct won’t extend beyond the individuals immediately involved, but it has far graver implications than that.
On a smaller scale, research misconduct can ruin careers. Researchers who falsify, fabricate, or plagiarize burn bridges of trust between themselves and their colleagues. Many lose their positions, tarnish their reputations, and break their credibility, making future career prospects in the field tenuous at best.
But misconduct doesn't just cause problems for individuals — it can also complicate matters for entire institutions, and even whole fields of science. Institutions can lose funding, prior research can be called into question and investigated, and the public can lose trust in the scientific process as a whole.
Research misconduct is a deliberate act. That is, the researcher in question knew on some level that what they were doing was dishonest, but they did it anyway.
If it's found that a researcher has made an honest mistake (a simple miscalculation, for example), their actions would not be considered misconduct. Their mistakes may influence the conclusions that can reasonably be drawn from their research, depending on the severity of the error, but they have not deliberately set out to mislead someone.
It is also not considered misconduct for a researcher to have a differing opinion from others. Given that a researcher has taken the effort to honestly and thoroughly document their process and collect data to the best of their ability, their personal interpretation of the data isn't important here.
The severity of the consequences involved in misconduct cases is reason enough to avoid them at all costs.
In your institution’s research, you can prevent misconduct through thorough training and strong leadership. Be certain before, during, and after the research process that you are fully aware of the best practices and general guidelines of both your institution and your field as a whole, and train your staff in a way that instills these values within the team’s culture.
Additionally, it’s important to establish policies that incentivize best practices and proper conduct. Misconduct can often spring up because the organization is set up or managed in a way that “encourages” it. This encouragement doesn’t even need to be explicit. There just needs to be a perception within the team that research misconduct might be a reasonable way to get ahead, and some may end up acting on it.
For instance, if your institution’s culture is overly competitive, and your team, in turn, gets the message that their research needs to produce meaningful results at all costs, this is an environment that creates a potential motive for misconduct. When the results are prioritized over the method of reaching them, it sends the implicit message that researchers can sacrifice integrity as long as their results get prestige. Putting policies in place to prevent that kind of environment from developing is a good method to prevent the misconduct itself.
Your eRA software should facilitate the compliance and best practices that keep your research from being compromised. Kuali Research can track your team’s training process, ensuring that best practices and compliance standards are fully brought to your staff’s attention. Keep compliance front of mind by using a system that doesn’t cut corners.
Kuali software can assist your team in cultivating a culture of integrity in research. Through Kuali, you can track your team’s training to ensure that all parties are thoroughly briefed on best practices and legal guidelines that keep your institution credible. You can also use the Conflict of Interest & Conflict of Commitment modules to catch and address possible conflicts early on in the process. Additional modules for Protocols and Export Control help you establish, practice, and track the policies and behaviors that keep your team honest and compliant, thereby maximizing chances for successful funding.
Learn more about Kuali Research today, and see how your team can prevent research misconduct.