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Research Integrity Frequently Asked Questions

Public concern over research misconduct initially arose in the early 1980s. At that time, research institutions sometimes ignored or covered up potential misconduct problems rather than investigate them. In December 2000, the Office of Science and Technology Policy adopted a federal policy on research misconduct.

Research misconduct policies have been established to define what research misconduct is, outline procedures for reporting and investigating misconduct, and provide protection for whistleblowers and persons accused of misconduct.

Every institution that receives federal funding, particularly Public Health Service funding, must have procedures in place for receiving and investigating reports of research misconduct. These procedures must include: the designation of an individual authorized to receive and investigate allegations of misconduct (research integrity officer); provisions for an initial inquiry to determine if the allegations have merit; provisions for a formal investigation to determine the truth of the allegations; the designation of an individual authorized to adjudicate the conclusions of the investigation and impose administrative actions to redress the misconduct or to vindicate the person charged (deciding official); and provisions for reporting findings to the Public Health Service Office of Research Integrity.

Virginia Tech must establish policies and procedures for investigating and reporting instances of alleged research misconduct, and respond to any allegations that are made. The Office of Research Integrity must promote the responsible conduct of research through education and training, provide assurances necessary to permit Virginia Tech to participate in federally supported research, and provide an annual report to the Office of Research Integrity of the Public Health Service.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy defines research misconduct as "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results." Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them. Falsification is manipulation of research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting results such that the research is not accurately represented in the record. Plagiarism is the appropriation of another's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving proper credit, and without their consent or knowledge.

Research misconduct may occur if the conduct represents a significant departure from accepted practices; has been committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly; and can be proven by a preponderance of evidence.

Research misconduct does not include differences of opinion; honest, unintentional error; authorship disputes; personal disputes; or violations of grant management policies.

The Office of Research Integrity recommends that institutions adopt a policy of zero tolerance for conduct that falls within the definition of research misconduct. Furthermore, whistleblowers (complainants) must be protected to the extent possible. The institution should provide training in how to report potential cases of research misconduct and train mentors in proper ethical behavior.

Research misconduct may result from the pressure to "publish or perish," the desire to "get ahead," personal  or character issues, and other reasons.

Most cases of research misconduct are suspected and reported by a colleague (students, postdoctoral fellows, staff, or other members within or outside of the research group), by random screening of proposals by federal agencies or manuscripts by editors, or the failure to confirm research results within one's own research group or by others outside the group.

Allegations (made in good faith) of potential research misconduct are reported to and assessed by the research integrity officer. The research integrity officer reviews the allegations and, if warranted, the relevant information is forwarded to an inquiry committee. An inquiry report is made and, if an allegation is substantiated, the records are forwarded to an investigation committee. An initial draft of the investigation report is reviewed by the research integrity officer and the deciding official (provost), and the final report is sent to all parties (respondent, complainant, research integrity officer, provost). A written decision by the provost is made and administrative action is taken.

If the respondent is found innocent of research misconduct, reasonable efforts to restore the respondent's reputation are made by the university Office of Research Integrity and all parties concerned. A respondent who has been found guilty of research misconduct has 10 days after receipt of the final decision to file an appeal. The university president will review the subject matter of the appeal and provide a written decision to the respondent regarding the appeal and actions to be taken. The president's decision is final.

The consequences of research misconduct are variable and may include: withdrawal or correction of all pending and published papers and abstracts affected by the misconduct, restitution of funds to the granting agency, and monitoring of grant allocations or ineligibility to apply for federal grants/contracts or serve on review panels for a specified timie period or permanently. At the institutional level, research misconduct may result in reprimand, removal from the project, rank and salary reduction, or dismissal from the institution.

All authors who are involved in the specific data or content of the material in question may be held accountable.