Misconduct in Science
Policies and Procedures for Dealing with Misconduct in Science for Faculty and Students Engaged in Research Supported by Federal Agencies.
Goals of a Policy at Carleton
Carleton College expects academic integrity from its employees at all times and in all circumstances.
Any institution of higher education having one or more faculty members who receive research support from select federal agencies (as listed in Addendum II, below) is required by the federal government to develop policies and procedures for handling allegations of scientific misconduct in projects supported by the agency. See Addendum I, below, for the official federal definitions of “research misconduct” and of “research” used in this policy.
Although Carleton strives to promote a climate of honesty in research, the College should nevertheless recognize the possibility of fraud in the conduct or reporting of research and be willing to address any cases of alleged fraud. At the same time, policies for handling fraud should not be so obtrusive as to dampen the spirit of inquiry or threaten the close working relationships and the trust among colleagues. The process must distinguish deliberate fraud from honest errors and debatable interpretations of incomplete data. Errors and questionable interpretations are normally corrected by additional research and are part of the process of scientific investigation as well as other forms of scholarly inquiry, including (but not limited to) humanistic research using documentary evidence or social-scientific fieldwork.
Reporting: Carleton College encourages all those who believe they have witnessed scientific misconduct to report that activity. Suspicions of misconduct should be submitted to an associate provost in the Provost’s office. Please be aware, should an investigation take place, the name of the complainant cannot be kept from the person accused of misconduct. The associate provosts would be happy to discuss the situation with a potential complainant in a confidential matter before a formal investigation takes place.
Key Elements of the Policy
Faculty engaged in research should be well-informed on what constitutes ethical conduct in research. To buttress this point, the Provost will send annually to appropriate faculty a reminder of their obligation to be cognizant of ethical issues. (The Public Health Service (PHS), which includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), requires an initial assurance and annual update indicating compliance.) An orientation for each student researcher beginning work with a faculty mentor should be standard practice, and most often includes the research mentor asking each student to complete the College’s Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training.
Because of the possibility of research misconduct, however remote, the ethical climate must include the understanding that someone bringing a complaint will be heard and that his or her rights, as well as the rights of someone suspected of unethical behavior, will be protected. In addition, inquiries and investigations must be conducted with the utmost concern for confidentiality for both the person bringing an allegation (the “complainant”) and the person accused of wrongdoing (the “respondent”). Due process as generally understood in the United States must be the cornerstone of the procedure for responding to an allegation. For our definitions and procedure we draw heavily from the PHS Policies on Research Misconduct (42 CFR Part 93) that became effective in 2005. Institutional policies below address requirements as outlined in CFR 42 §93.304.
The procedure for addressing misconduct consists of four potential stages, and requires regular communication with the NIH’s Office of Research Integrity:
- An inquiry to determine whether the allegation or suspected misconduct warrants further investigation.
- When warranted, an investigation to collect and thoroughly examine evidence, leading to dismissal of the case or to a recommendation for a finding of research misconduct or other appropriate remedies.
- An official finding, including a formal report to the Provost, the College President, other college officials, and the federal agency, conveying the results of the investigation.
- Appropriate disposition of the matter and appropriate action, including required reporting to the Office of Research Integrity (within NIH) at each stage of the procedure, meeting the requirements stated in CFR 42 §93.307 through 93.318. (Details on this reporting appear below.)
Only those individuals with a need to know in order to perform their job duties will have access to research misconduct cases, as these are confidential proceedings.
Allegations of misconduct that occurred seven or more years prior to the submission of the allegation will not be considered unless circumstances indicate that the alleged conduct was not discoverable earlier.
Stage 1: Inquiry
An inquiry, using the criteria of CFR 42 §93.307, into possible fraud can be generated by an allegation of misconduct or other evidence of questionable behavior in research. A complainant should report an allegation, including evidence, to the Provost, who, after judging the preliminary evidence to be significant, will initiate an inquiry, usually by designating another senior officer – to act as the Research Integrity Officer – to conduct the inquiry. The Provost will be sensitive to possible conflicts of interest when naming the Provost’s designee, and both will be careful to maintain confidentiality for the complainant and the respondent, abiding by CFR 42 §93.108. If the complainant later decides against pursuing an allegation, the Provost’s designee may nevertheless continue the inquiry without participation of the original complainant, if sufficient independent evidence is available. The Provost’s designee will consult legal counsel when legal issues arise, and the respondent and/or the complainant may engage counsel at their own expense.
Timing. The inquiry stage of information gathering and fact finding must begin soon after the allegation has been made and should be completed within 60 days from the receipt of the allegation.
Notice to respondent and custody of research records. At the start of the process the Provost’s designee must make a good faith effort to notify the respondent in writing of the charges, the identity of the complainant, and the procedure to be followed. During the inquiry the Provost’s designee will question both the complainant and the respondent about the allegation and the evidence pertinent to it. The College will also promptly obtain custody of research records and evidence needed to conduct the research misconduct proceeding, inventory the records and evidence, and sequester the records in a secure manner, to the extent it has not already done so at the allegation stage. Protocols for handling the research record and evidence will follow the requirements of §93.305.
Inquiry report. At the conclusion of the inquiry the Provost’s designee must determine whether or not an investigation is warranted and produce a written report on the inquiry and the decision, meeting the requirements of CFR 42 §93.307 through 93.318. He or she must make the decision known to the respondent and may notify the complainant, if the latter has continued to participate in the inquiry. The respondent will be given opportunity to provide written comments on the inquiry report.
According to Public Health Service regulations governing research sponsored by that agency, the Director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI, https://ori.hhs.gov/) must be provided a copy of the inquiry report with information as described in §93.309, within 30 days of finding that an investigation is warranted, if there is a decision to initiate an investigation. Notification of ORI must occur within 24 hours of the decision to open an investigation if a criminal violation is judged a possibility.
Inquiry that does not lead to a formal investigation. If the allegation is found to be without merit, no action is needed other than to inform all involved parties. Consistent with §93.317 the College must preserve all documentation relating to the case for at least seven years. Every effort must be made to keep the proceedings of the inquiry confidential and the identities of the complainant and respondent unknown to anyone other than those who participated in the inquiry. Finally, the Provost should seek to protect the complainant from retaliation and may take appropriate disciplinary action against anyone engaging in retaliation.
Stage 2: Investigation
Timing and ORI notice of investigation. If the Provost, after receiving the recommendation by the Provost’s designee, determines that an investigation is warranted, this investigation will begin within 30 days. On or before the date the investigation begins, the ORI director will be notified and provided with an inquiry report that meets requirements of §93.307 and §93.309.
Purpose and committee members. The purpose of the investigation is to examine all the evidence and determine whether fraud has occurred. A committee chaired by the Provost’s designee is responsible for the investigation. The other committee members will consist of the chair of the respondent’s department (or another tenured member if the chair is the respondent), another tenured member of the department or a tenured member of a related department, and two faculty members from outside the College who are familiar with the respondent’s research specialty. The latter three people will be selected by the Provost in consultation with the Provost’s designee, each of whom should be certain that none of the four members has a conflict of interest or relation with anyone connected with the case that would compromise independence of judgment.
Notice to the respondent. All involved parties, including the complainant and the respondent, are obligated to cooperate with the investigation and to provide information relating to the case. The respondent will receive, in writing and before the investigation begins, all relevant information in a timely manner to facilitate preparation of a response. The respondent has the right to hear all testimony, to address the charges and evidence, to have legal counsel at his or her own expense, and to provide written comments on the draft report of the investigation.
Notifications to ORI. The agency sponsoring the research in question, and in particular the ORI, must be informed of significant developments in the investigation. The Director of the ORI must be informed if an investigation is terminated before completion, or if criminal violations may have occurred, with the College keeping records for at least seven years after termination of the inquiry, consistent with §93.317. The ORI must be notified immediately of special circumstances as described in §93.318 including but not limited to risks to the health or safety of the public, threats to HHS resources or interests, or a need to suspend research activities.
These reporting requirements are specific to research supported by agencies belonging to the PHS. Other federal agencies vary slightly and specifics can be ascertained by following links given below in Addendum II.
Timing and content of final institutional investigation report. Except under special circumstances, the investigation should be completed within 120 days. Special circumstances include a large volume of material to be studied, inability of the outside experts on the investigation committee to render judgments quickly, or lack of cooperation from the respondent. If the committee is unable to meet the deadline, it should submit an interim report to the Provost, describing the progress of the investigation to date and the reason(s) for the committee’s failure to meet the deadline. If unable to complete the investigation in 120 days, the College will ask ORI for an extension in writing.
The final investigation report will be in writing and adhere to requirements as described in §93.313.
Stage 3: Findings
The final investigation report should be submitted in writing to the Provost, the President of the College, the respondent, and the funding agency. The finding can range from no fraud and no scientific error, through no fraud but significant scientific error, to serious fraud. If no fraud was found but the complainant’s allegations were made in good faith, the College must make a strong effort to see that no retaliation is directed toward the complainant. If, on the other hand, the complainant’s charges have been determined to be malicious and unfounded, disciplinary action against the complainant may be taken. Furthermore, the College must make “diligent efforts” to protect and, if necessary, restore the reputation of anyone wrongly accused.
After the investigative committee presents its findings to the Provost and the President, these two officials must review the case and then accept, modify, or reject the findings. In extraordinary cases the Board of Trustees may accept a petition from the respondent to hear an appeal from the findings.
Notice to ORI of institutional findings and actions. The College must send a complete report to the ORI in accordance with 42 CFR §93.315.
Record retention. Records will be maintained according to §93.317 Retention and custody of the research misconduct proceeding record.
Stage 4: Disposition
If fraud or serious scientific error has been identified, the President and the Provost will take disciplinary action, as provided for in the Faculty Handbook. Possible actions include a letter of reprimand, suspension of duties for a stated time, salary reduction, or an initiation of action toward dismissal for cause and a hearing before the Faculty Judiciary Committee. Concerned parties not already notified should be informed at the end of the process. They include sponsoring agencies, collaborators, co-authors, editors of journals in which fraudulent research was published, professional societies, and, where appropriate, criminal authorities.
Addendum I: Definitions
In the Public Health Service’s definition (which holds for other federal agencies), “research” is a systematic experiment, study, evaluation, demonstration, or survey designed to develop or contribute to general scientific knowledge (basic research) or specific knowledge (applied research) [§93.222 Research].
“Research misconduct” is the “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 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. Subtle forms of plagiarism include inadequate citation and footnoting, along with presentation of the same data in more than one publication without citation.
Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion. A finding of research misconduct requires that –
- There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community;
- The misconduct be committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly;
- The allegation be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
Addendum II: Relevant Federal Agencies
A list of federal agencies implementing a research misconduct definition with their respective policy or Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) location or link can be found on the CFR website.
Last Revised: March 13, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Trustees on June 21, 1990.
Last Reviewed: January 9, 2024
Maintained by: Office of the Provost