Fraud and plagiarism
It may be tempting to dress up in borrowed plumage (plagiarise/refrain from referring to one’s sources), cook data (falsify data) or simply invent (fabricate) data, and disregard the fact that this violates fundamental and internationally accepted rules for good research practice.
Many will be aware of the case involving a researcher at Oslo University Hospital Rikshospitalet-Radiumhospitalet. In brief, an independent commission of inquiry appointed in 2006 declared that the researcher had deliberately fabricated data (fictitious patient material) and thus committed research misconduct. A total of 13 scientific articles had to be withdrawn. In addition, the University of Oslo stripped the researcher of his doctoral degree. This case made scientific misconduct front-page news in both the Norwegian and international media. This was an awkward situation for Norwegian research, whose reputation in the domestic as well as the international arena suffered a setback when the case came to light. Immediately prior to this scandal, the world had witnessed the indictment of the South Korean cloning researcher Woo Suk Hwang for research misconduct. From having nearly iconic status, Hwang became known as a large-scale fraudster who received a prison sentence (Kaiser 2006).
Since then, other cases have made newspaper headlines. In Europe, these include a number of plagiarism cases in Germany, in which cabinet ministers were involved. In Denmark, the case involving comprehensive misconduct associated with animal experiments conducted by a young and very promising brain researcher, Milena Penkowa, has reappeared in the headlines for years. Finally, we can mention the research misconduct committed over many years by a recognised Dutch social psychologist, Diederik Stapel. There are numerous other major well-known cases, older as well as more recent. These reflect that misconduct may occur within all disciplines. For reasons of space, all these cases cannot be described here, but the references provide further information on sources on a number of previous cases, some of which involve obvious misconduct, whereas in others, the matter of guilt or intent in particular is less clear-cut (Lundsgaard Hansen 2005). Information on more recent cases, including Norwegian ones, is available (in Norwegian) at www.etikkom.no.
Fraud, cheating in research, or research misconduct, which is the official term, is often defined as fabrication, falsification and plagiarism (FFP). In 2000, the American Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) made this brief definition official US policy at the federal level, while for example universities in US states mostly apply a wider definition.
Nor in Europe is there any generally accepted definition. Thus, there are some who believe that the FFP definition above is too narrow; in other words, it fails to capture all forms of research misconduct. Others claim that an expanded definition will give rise to an excessively large grey area, making it difficult to identify research misconduct in practice. Instead, focus should be placed on those cases that obviously fall within a narrow definition.
In Norway, the Act on ethics and integrity in research – The Research Ethics Act – was adopted in June 2006 and entered into force in July 2007. The system of national research ethics committees became enshrined in the Act, and led to the establishment of the National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct. The Act had already been anticipated for a long time, but was adopted only in the wake of the case of the cancer researcher, referred to above. Different attitudes to the extent of the problem and the issue of self-regulation versus national regulations etc. may have partly caused this delay. Some felt that this was not a major problem that required the establishment of large organisational bodies, but should be left to the research community to resolve. This view appears to have lost ground in the last decade or so, however, in Norway as well as internationally.
During the preparation of the Act there was wide debate as to whether the broad or the narrow definition should be used. After the Act's entry into force, we now have an official Norwegian definition. It goes as follows:
Scientific misconduct is defined as falsification, fabrication, plagiarism and other serious breaches of good research practice that have been committed wilfully or through gross negligence when planning, carrying out or reporting on research (italics added).
In other words, the definition goes beyond FFP. It is also worth noting that the Act operates on the concept of so-called subjective guilt.
So what is good research practice? There is no absolute definition for this, either; scarcely within the individual disciplines, and none at all across disciplines. Traditions and cultures differ from one discipline to another.
The extent of research misconduct
A distinction can be drawn between fraud or cheating on the one hand and negligence, blunders or plain errors on the other, or between questionable research and plain sloppiness or poor execution (Kalleberg 2003). Another way of expressing largely the same idea, and more in line with internationally recognised or used concepts, is to distinguish between serious breaches of good research practice (misconduct) and less serious breaches. The term 'Questionable Research Practices' or unintended research practices refers to dubious, blameworthy or controversial research practices. Here we cannot speak of clear lines of distinction, but of considerable grey areas. In addition to these, there are accidental errors and similar that will tend to be excluded from the definition.
So what is the magnitude of (serious) research misconduct, provided that there is agreement on the definition? Nobody knows with any certainty, and opinions are divided even here. Some believe that the serious cases are few in number, and that serious cases tend to be discovered. Others are of the opinion that we see only the tip of the iceberg, and that some cases (including serious ones) are swept under the carpet, because this happens to be the most agreeable solution. For example, a case could be seen as detrimental to a university's reputation. Given the stiff competition for funding, a bad reputation is the last thing anybody needs. The cases might be legally complicated, consume time and resources, and not least be unpleasant to deal with, since they often involve colleagues. Many allegations of misconduct may be a cover for differing academic interests or perhaps even conflicts of a decidedly personal nature.
Finland and Denmark were the first Nordic countries to introduce some form of national system for reporting of known cases of misconduct across all disciplines, whereas Norway has had such a system for approximately eight years. Definitions and procedures for handling such cases vary somewhat between these three countries, but if we concentrate on FFP (falsification, fabrication and plagiarism), the comparison becomes somewhat more equal.
In Finland, a total of 165 cases were reported in the period 1998–2014, of which 87 involved FFP. In 22 of these it was concluded that research misconduct had taken place.
In Denmark, the number of cases in the period 1999–2014 amounted to 131, whereof 48 involved FFP. Research misconduct was ascertained in 14 of these.
In Norway, there were 67 known cases in the period 2008–2014, whereof 40 involved FFP. A conclusion of misconduct or breach of good practice was drawn in 17 of these.
The cases are divided between FF and P as follows:
In Finland and Norway, plagiarism cases clearly dominate in the reports of possible misconduct , and even more so with regard to conclusions of research misconduct. In Denmark, cases pertaining to FF account for nearly half of all FFP cases.
(Source: The author's own compilation, based on annual reports from national committees in the three countries).
If the number of these actually known cases in which a conclusion of misconduct was drawn is compared to the total number of researchers in the three countries, the frequency of misconduct is fairly low. There is much to indicate that the reality is rather different.
Before national systems were established, the number of known and processed cases was far smaller. The figures indicate that more cases are brought to light when a national system exists than when such processing is only a local responsibility.
This notwithstanding, not all cases are brought to light. This applies to all of the three countries, as well as to many others. Most likely, a large number of cases go undetected.
The number of allegations or cases that are put forward or dealt with is an indication of the extent of the problem. A series of studies, mainly from abroad but including a single Norwegian study, show that the extent of misconduct and questionable conduct is relatively large. We will now look into this in more detail.
We have no exact knowledge regarding the extent of research misconduct. About 30–40 years ago, the dominant notion was that this was an extremely rare occurrence. The proportion of researchers who committed misconduct was in some contexts estimated to amount to far less than one in a thousand.
Today, this view has changed, partly as a result of the intensified focus resulting from a number of highly publicised cases and partly as a result of empirical studies or surveys. As noted above, however, we still have scant knowledge of the magnitude of the problem.
Asking researchers whether they have acted dishonestly is not without its problems, since those who suffer from a guilty conscience may be the last ones to admit it. Subjective factors are involved. In the absence of other applicable methods, however, this remains the most widely used procedure, along with the question of whether someone is aware of or suspects that others have committed research misconduct . In the latter case there is a risk, however, that the same 'case' will be reported by more than one researcher, making this method fraught with problems also.
An American study published in 2005 deserves mention, Here, a large sample of researchers who were at the mid-point of their careers and had received funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) were asked whether they had committed research misconduct or QRP (questionable research practices) sometime during the last three years. Types of breaches of good practice were not directly linked to the definition of misconduct. The results of the study may nevertheless be seen as confirming that a number of researchers admitted to having committed (serious) misconduct; their proportion among the researchers interviewed was larger than the number of known/processed cases would indicate.
Moreover, this study concluded that a large number of questionable research practices (QRP) could be more damaging to the integrity of research than the relatively few really large cases of serious misconduct that have been made public (Martinsson et al. 2005).
In recent years, reference has often been made to a meta-analysis based on 21 surveys on the extent of falsification and fabrication (Fanelli 2009). The analysis showed that approximately two per cent of the interviewed researchers admitted to misconduct (FF) and approximately one-third admitted to having engaged in questionable research practices. When asked whether they were aware of other researchers who had falsified or fabricated data, the percentage rose to 14, while questionable research practices rose to more than 70 per cent. These are quite frightening figures, which in terms of the most serious cases refer only to FF and do not include plagiarism.
In 1996, the Norwegian National Research Ethics Committees conducted a study that indicated a similar situation in Norwegian research, since many researchers in self-reporting admitted to having committed misconduct or engaged in questionable practices (Elgesem et al. 1997). This caused a rather heated debate to erupt, in which a number of researchers claimed that the study painted a far too pessimistic picture that was damaging to the reputation of the research sector. This seems hard to understand today, but it was perhaps symptomatic of the perception of the problem as such, and of its extent at the time. There are plans, however, to conduct new Norwegian studies, and it will be intriguing to see what they can bring in terms of new knowledge, not least regarding the extent of questionable research.
Sloppiness and poor execution or questionable research
Questionable research practices may include omission of data, failure to store data, omission of contradictory or negative observations, use of the same data or results in two or more publications without declaring this, splitting of continuous scientific articles into small parts (so-called 'salami slicing ') inclusion of numerous authors in publications to which not all of them have made a de facto contribution etc.
A number of these questionable practices may be associated with increasing pressure/competition. In this context, reference is often made to so-called 'rotten incentives' which may have the effect of promoting unethical or questionable research practices. It has also been noted that questionable research practices may lead to more serious breaches of good research practice, since once the first step has been taken, the threshold to more serious misconduct has been lowered.
Questionable practices may also be related to individuals, such as exploitation of the power relationship between a research director/supervisor and a PhD scholar, or it could involve exploitation of a peer review, failure to declare conflicts of interest, improper use of research funds etc.
The issue of co-authorship in particular appears to be hotly debated, not only with regard to questionable research practices, but also in relation to some of the major cases of research misconduct, such as the cases against the Norwegian cancer researcher, Hwang or Penkowa. This is a problem that torments not only universities, university colleges, commissions of inquiry etc. but also recognised scientific journals that publish columns of research that may be questionable in terms of authorship. Those who want to share the glory cannot evade co-responsibility for the content. The regulations for authorship (e.g. the revised Vancouver Reconmmendations) have therefore been tightened, requiring authors to have made active contributions to an article. There are, however, major differences between the various disciplines; in medicine and the natural sciences it is common to have numerous co-authors, whereas in the humanities, a single author is often the norm.
Why is research misconduct harmful?
Unfortunately, we have little knowledge of why researchers commit misconduct, but we do know that this reduces the confidence in published research results, and this makes the research less effective. Moreover, it is harmful for the research community's reputation, causing it to lose the trust of those who fund research. Research subjects who volunteer for projects may lose confidence, and public confidence in research may also suffer.
Misconduct may entail harmful or even fatal consequences, for example if the research in question is associated with treatment methods for patients, the safety of construction projects, environmental problems etc. (Gustafsson 2005). In addition, problems may arise if political decisions are made on the basis of dishonest or questionable research.
Finally, research misconduct will frequently be decidedly unfair to other colleagues: stealing a colleague's ideas, plagiarising research results produced by others etc. Another aspect related to colleagues is that funding of dishonest or questionable research comes at the cost of competing projects that abide by the requirements for good research practice. In particular, this is a problem in a situation of keen competition for strictly limited funding.
The title of this article is 'Fraud and plagiarism'. This could be seen as indicating that plagiarism is less serious than manipulation or fabrication of data. Nevertheless, plagiarism is explicitly referred to in the definition of research misconduct used in the Research Ethics Act, and on top of that seems to be even more widespread than falsification and fabrication of data.
A little bit of 'cut and paste' – surely it cannot be all that serious? Calling it 'borrowing' also makes it sound less odious.
According to the Store Norske Leksikon:
'Plagiarism refers to copying the work of others in an inappropriate manner and publishing it as one's own. Plagiarism is not a legal concept and is not used in the Copyright Act.
The term was first used with this meaning by the Roman poet Martialis (40–approx. 102 CE), who criticised Fidentinus for reciting Martialis' poems as his own. Originally, the Latin word 'plagiarus' referred to a form of kidnapping and to turning a free man into a slave.
In research ethics regulations, the term 'plagiarism' is used in a far broader sense than only referring to an imitation that violates somebody else's copyright.
If the term 'plagiarism' is perceived as a synonym for kidnapping or enslavement, it immediately strikes a more offensive and immoral note.
We shall not discuss the plagiarism regulations in copyright law, but concentrate on plagiarism in light of research ethics. Although partly overlapping, there are also some differences between these two sets of rules.
Section 28 of the national guidelines for research ethics in the social sciences, law, humanities and technology (NESH version 2006) states that:
'Plagiarism of others' text, material, ideas and research results is unacceptable and constitutes a serious breach of ethical standards.'
'In terms of research ethics, plagiarism involves stealing content from the works of other writers and researchers and publishing it as one's own.'
Research builds on the work of other researchers. Borrowing from others is in principle completely legitimate. However, it is crucial to remember to declare that something has been borrowed, from where exactly it has been borrowed, and to treat the borrowed material with respect, so to speak.
A failure to do so can broadly be described as follows: First, somebody steals someone else's work and then lies about it. In other words, this could be a matter of theft as well as fraud, cf. NESH. When these terms are used, the issue immediately appears in a different light. In a research context, this could occasionally spell unconditional misconduct.
This notwithstanding, plagiarism occasionally seems to be underplayed. It is argued that this is not as bad as, for example, falsification and fabrication. This happens perhaps not least when someone who is accused of plagiarism is questioned or seeks for defensive arguments. Not without reason, however, plagiarism is defined as a serious breach of good research practice and thus in principle is considered research misconduct.
Plagiarism is serious, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it fundamentally violates the quest for truth. Researchers have published something in their own name, even though it has been taken from another researcher, source etc. In terms of research integrity, this is questionable irrespective of whether the material has been lifted from a public website, Wikipedia or another researcher's publication etc.
Plagiarism is also a serious problem because it occurs relatively frequently. As noted above, this harms the research community is a number of ways. It could also be harmful to colleagues or the relationship to fellow researchers if someone takes the credit for something others have spent time and effort on formulating or discovering.
Among the Norwegian cases of misconduct that have been brought to the attention of the National Commission for Investigation of Research Misconduct, a fair number have involved plagiarism. It is especially important to note that broadly speaking, all cases examined over the last eight years in which a conclusion of some form of research misconduct has been reached have primarily centred on plagiarism. In other words, there is ample reason to focus on this issue, despite the fact that even in primary school we were instructed not to copy others and in upper secondary we were scrupulously taught that plagiarism is forbidden.
Moreover, it is worth noting that even if an investigation of suspected plagiarism fails to end with a conclusion of research misconduct as defined by the Research Ethics Act (e.g. because of failure to fulfil the criterion of guilt), plagiarism is or may remain just as harmful. If the plagiarism is serious in light of its scope or content, sanctions should include, for example, withdrawal of the publication, irrespective of whether the plagiarism has been committed negligently or wilfully. All other things being equal, personal sanctions targeting the culprit will be more far-reaching if the case involves definitive research misconduct in the strict sense of the law.
This being said, it needs to be pointed out that not all textual similarities equal plagiarism, and not all plagiarism in a research context should be deemed to constitute research misconduct or be perceived as equally serious. There is a difference.
This issue should be taken seriously, but there is no need to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Any textual similarities (discovered e.g. by an electronic text recognition program) should be assessed specifically. This will involve discretionary judgement/assessment in light of research integrity. Is this a matter of an inadvertent error, how comprehensive is the plagiarism, does it occur systematically, has any attempt been made to cover it up, what source has been plagiarised, in what context was the plagiarised material used etc. For example, if the material was used in a newspaper article, the degree of seriousness will be assessed differently from similar use in a scientific article. This problem complex is described in more detail in an anthology on research ethics. https://www.idunn.no/etisk-skjonn-i-forskning/skjonnsutovelse-i-stadfesting-av-plagiat
In its milder forms, plagiarism can be equivalent to sloppiness or negligence, but there is only a thin line separating this from a risk of misconduct. Even though some sentences may have been rephrased (to make them appear as the author's own) or some information has simply been found online, this is no excuse for publishing it as one's own.
Adhering to good reference practices in conformity with recognised norms and practices applied in the discipline in question is an absolute requirement for students and researchers alike.
In Norway, a number of plagiarism cases have come to light in the context of university examinations. The students were uncomprehending of this being a (major) problem. And even worse: the responsible institutions failed to implement immediate sanctions. On the whole, plagiarism appears to be a growing problem, not only in Norway, but in many other countries as well. Most will agree that easy access to information online, as well as the permission given to primary-school students to retrieve information from online sources without reference, may be an important reason.
Studies have been made of the extent of plagiarism, but we have no real knowledge of what the Internet means for its extent. Has the number of plagiarism cases increased significantly? We know that plagiarisers have 'always' existed. However, we are ignorant of previous, historic levels, or in other words: how widespread was plagiarism before the Internet? There are many myths and undocumented assertions about the role of the Internet, but few scientific facts. There is a need for research-based knowledge, not least with regard to plagiarism associated with education. If this is a growing trend, could it rub off onto the extent of plagiarism in research?
So what should we do to avoid committing plagiarism or other forms of misconduct or questionable research practices?
We should adhere to good practices – it is as simple as that. Ensuring compliance with good practices is far more important than processing cases of misconduct. Nevertheless, the two aspects of integrity and misconduct should receive equal attention.
Serious cases need to be dealt with. This is indicated by a common sense of justice, but also by concerns for the harmful effects they may have for research per se, as pointed out above.
Processing of serious cases may have a preventive effect. Lessons can be learned from them, system failures can be brought to light etc., all of which may help promote good practices. Processing of individual cases may also have a deterrent effect, even though there will always be some researchers who choose to take shortcuts that violate good practices, as there are in any profession.
As noted above, questionable research practices have significant harmful effects. In other respects it might be better to use the term undesired research practices. It goes without saying that research that fails to adhere to good practices is reprehensible, unless the fault is a result of an inadvertent error or similar.
We cannot expect everybody to adhere to good practices, but we need to make a dedicated effort to ensure that it does not happen as a result of ignorance, i.e. lack of knowledge about proper procedures. This is where active prevention comes in.
Returning to plagiarism, we all know that copying others, cheating and plagiarising are not permitted. As noted above, we learned this already at school. But where should the line be drawn; what do good practices mean quite specifically in a research context with regard to references and borrowing from other works or one's own previous ones, so-called duplication? There are various written guidelines for good academic authorship. If these are followed, things are unlikely to go wrong when it comes to avoiding plagiarism and/or adhering to good reference practices.
As noted above, the guidelines on research ethics from the National Research Ethics Committees include recommendations on integrity. In addition, there are numerous international guidelines. Everybody should be familiar with them and comply with them. There is the problem, however, that such guidelines or recognised norms etc. change over time, new elements are added as a result of development and debates in the research community etc. This is one reason why research integrity ought to be a lifelong learning project.
But who is responsible for ensuring that good practices are upheld?
In 2007, the Research Ethics Act ordained that the responsibility for prevention primarily lies at the local level, i.e. in the universities, university colleges, research institutions and private enterprises that conduct research. The Research Ethics Act is undergoing revision. In a preliminary draft of the revised Act, it is emphasised that each individual researcher has an independent responsibility to acquaint themselves with what constitutes good research practices and breaches of them. Somewhat rigidly, we may say that no researcher or research student may claim that 'I didn't know that this was dishonest' or that 'everybody is committing such dishonest acts'.
This independent responsibility presumes that specific training is provided. The responsibility of the institutions (and the universities and university colleges in particular) to provide training as part of their preventive efforts is explicitly referred to in the draft of the new Act. This underscores that a key part of the preventive efforts should be undertaken in the context of training and supervision, thus to familiarise students and PhD scholars with good research practices. However, even supervisors ought to be provided with an opportunity to upgrade their competence in research integrity .
A one-day training course in research integrity is insufficient. Ethics and integrity issues should be continuously discussed as part of the totality of the research activities. This should be an open discussion, and there is ample reason to attempt to intervene before any untoward events occur. The responsibility for ensuring that this happens rests with the institutions and the local management.
Many local institutions (universities etc.) have appointed research ethics or integrity committees and prepared guidelines for research integrity and ethics. At the national level, responsibility for prevention has been delegated to the three national research ethics committees in cooperation with the National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct.
See also the main websites of The National Research Ethics Committees and their guidelines for research ethics.
Suspicion and reporting
But what can we do when the damage has already been done, and we suspect that someone is committing research misconduct The press plays a key role in the disclosure of possible misconduct, but allegations are also reported through whistleblowing. Whistleblowing is not a simple matter. How should allegations be reported? Can I blow the whistle on someone without any risk of being frowned upon? What risks are involved in whistleblowing, especially for young researchers and PhD students? Will I be taken seriously as a whistleblower? Is there a system for reporting suspicions? With whom can I discuss a possible case? There are many questions involved. (Cf. also Public interest disclosure.)
Many countries have introduced rules for the protection of whistleblowers. NENT's guidelines for research ethics addresses this issue as well as the obligation to report misconduct. A number of universities and research institutions have adopted guidelines for the protection of whistleblowers, who will also be protected by the provisions on whistleblowing in the Working Environment Act. Legislation and local guidelines notwithstanding, experience has unfortunately shown that whistleblowing is not straightforward, especially for young researchers or PhD scholars, who may face long-term negative repercussions. The management is responsible for ensuring that this does not happen, and some institutions have therefore appointed an independent ombudsperson to whom whistleblowers may address themselves confidentially instead of approaching the management of the institution or their own superior. The University of Oslo has recently established such a scheme. Since this is a relatively new arrangement, it will be intriguing to see the experiences that will be gained from it. Another possibility is to turn to the secretariat of the National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct for advice and guidance regarding how to proceed.
With the entry into force of the Research Ethics Act, institutions were made subject to a statutory responsibility for processing concrete allegations of research misconduct, irrespective of how the matter has been brought to their attention. The draft revision of the Act includes a provision saying that institutions also have an obligation to address allegations or reports of less serious breaches of good research practice. In other words, the institution must process less serious breaches themselves, but may choose to submit suspicions of more serious breaches to the National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct, for example if the case is considered difficult to handle in terms of conflicts of interest or in other respects.
The institution may also seek advice from the commission of investigation, which acts as a national resource. Moreover, the draft text for the revised Act states that the commission of investigation shall be informed whenever institutions address concrete allegations . This will provide the commission with a better basis for giving advice in similar cases and produce better knowledge on the situation in Norway as a whole, hopefully for the benefit of institutions and individuals, but also as a basis for international comparisons and collaboration.
Protection of the whistleblower and conscientious processing of the matter reported are one side of the coin; the legal protection of the accused is the other. In some cases, a submitted report may be a cover for academic disagreement, personal controversies or even long-standing enmity.
An accusation or allegation of research misconduct is a serious matter in itself. A conclusion that misconduct has in fact been ascertained may entail far-reaching and perhaps lifelong consequences for the researcher or researchers involved. This can be seen as the background to the strict standards of proof laid down in the Research Ethics Act. Extreme caution should be exercised in determining misconduct in cases where there may be doubt. In addition, the Act requires that the serious breaches in question must have been committed wilfully or through gross negligence.
As noted above, allegations or suspicions of research misconduct may be very inhibiting or directly harmful to a researcher, although there are also examples of cases that have entailed no major consequences. The Research Ethics Act includes provisions that entitle researchers whose names have been wrongfully linked to allegations of misconduct to an opportunity to submit their case to the national commission of investigation, and thus to clear their name. This applies to co-authors, colleagues or others who have been implicated in the case.
As already noted, the concrete processing of allegations of misconduct can be delegated to the national commission of investigation. However, when it comes to sanctions in the wake of cases where misconduct has been established, responsibility will invariably lie at the local level. The authority to implement sanctions will always be held by the employer (and/or the university or other institution that has conferred a doctoral degree, for example), unless the case involves an actual criminal offence. Such sanctions are often addressed as an employee issue. Therefore, we have little knowledge of where – or how – sanctions are imposed. In practice, sanctions may be difficult to implement. Cases of research misconduct may extend far back in time and closing the case may take a long time. A researcher who committed research misconduct may therefore be 'over the hills and far away', in their home country or abroad.
With regard to sanctioning or follow-up of a misconduct case, the entire 'blame' should rarely be placed on the guilty party alone. In such a case, all institutions need to ask themselves: Did we do all we could, did we provide sufficient training, guidance/mentoring, did we keep attention focused on research ethics/integrity, is everybody familiar with our guidelines, are whistleblowers treated appropriately/correctly and are those accused treated fairly? Moreover, the closure of a case should always be accompanied by an evaluation or a summary of lessons learned, for better or worse, followed by a consideration of any need for amendments, initiatives etc. This brings us back to the issue of prevention.
Furthermore, this brings up a question which is frequently debated in many countries and across borders. Should the names of those who have earned the epithet 'guilty of research misconduct' be made public, and should such information be registered in a public (international) database? And if so, should this information be subject to a time limit? Many questions can be raised, but we will not attempt to answer them all here. However, anybody can consider for themselves what their answers would be and the consequences that might result from them.
Self-regulation and international trends
Research misconduct has always existed, but some major cases and their handling have drawn increased attention to this phenomenon in a number of countries. Information on proven misconduct spreads rapidly to other countries. Growing research budgets (for example resulting from the EU's goal of devoting 3% of GDP to research) have moved research higher on the political agenda, which has entailed a sharper focus on research misconduct. Are public funds being spent on fraudulent activities or on proper research?
Over the years, a debate has unfolded in many countries as to whether research misconduct de facto is a major problem, and there are many who have doubted whether there is a real need for any more than self-regulation or academic control mechanisms. As already mentioned, this opinion appears to be losing ground.
It appears as though promotion of good research practices and combatting misconduct at the national level are attracting more attention internationally as well as in a number of countries. Thus, the first World Conference on Research Integrity was arranged in 2007. Three conferences have later been held and a fifth will be held in 2017. The second world conference led to the preparation of the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity, which contains a number of recommendations or guidelines that describe proper ethical conduct in various research settings. These guidelines enjoy global consensus, which tends to be difficult to achieve for reasons including cultural differences.
Some years ago, the OECD also placed a focus on international collaboration on good research practices and handling of research misconduct across borders.
Over the last decade, European initiatives have been put forward to promote good research practices, such as the European Code of Conduct. Since its establishment in 2008, ENRIO (European Network for Research Integrity Offices) has grown from having members in 7–8 countries to its present membership of approximately 25 countries. Last but not least, the EU has also increased its focus on research integrity.
In addition to the USA, the Nordic countries were among the first to establish national organisations for handling allegations of research misconduct, initially in the health sciences, but later expanding to all academic disciplines. At the moment, national bodies for handling, or advice on handling scientific misconduct exist in approximately fifteen European countries, but similar arrangements appear to be imminent in many others as well. A large number of European countries have organisations that have prepared guidelines for good research practices.