Misconduct in Research

An important topic in sensitizing trainees to appropriate research conduct is how to respond when they suspect others of engaging in fraudulent or otherwise inappropriate activities. Reporting observations or knowledge of research misconduct is the responsibility of every scientist, yet trainees may be in an especially difficult situation in living up to this mandate. Trainees are less likely than faculty or administrators to be familiar with the system the institution has in place for handling allegations of misconduct. Therefore, knowing where to take an allegation and understanding the responsibilities and implications associated with making an allegation may be particularly difficult for the junior individual.

Addressing possible misconduct is rarely a simple event. Cases often begin with vague suspicions of wrongdoing that gather momentum and complexity as they are pursued. Twists, turns, and ironies are not uncommon. The accuser can become the accused and culpability can often rest with more than the original subject of allegation. For that reason, Case F1 is a "mega-case" written from the perspective of a junior person. It is long but will take the reader through considerations of how to address suspicions of misconduct, to whom suspicions might be reported, the process the institution will likely follow, and the rights and responsibilities of the complainants, accused, and others involved. Because of its length, this case might be presented over several class sessions.

Case F2 offers a briefer and simpler scenario, for which the discussion can be equally complex, depending on the ingenuity of the instructor. The case and questions are less directed than the preceding case, and therefore the instructor must be creative in guiding the class through the hypothetical events that might ensue. This case may be preferred when time is short.

Case F3 illustrates the problem of shared interest and responsibility. Often the complainant and the accused are not at the same institution, and the act in question may even have taken place earlier in time at a third institution. If the incident involves a paper or a research grant application, a journal or funding source may also become involved. In this case, the reader must consider what the respective responsibilities are of each institution and individual in pursuing what seems to be an act of plagiarism.


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