The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) supervises research integrity activities on behalf of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The government invests billions of dollars in health research and development every year, that is why the supervision of all these projects is so important.
One of the purposes of the ORI is the oversight of research misconduct inquiries and investigations, and propose the appropriate administrative actions.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, title 42 Public Health, Part 93.103, research misconduct is the “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.”
On the website of ORI, we can find a summary, per year, of all the misconduct cases that this institution investigates. I decided to check all the cases for 2018 to explore similarities and differences among cases. I accessed the website and opened each case to learn more about the specific cause, professional stage of the researcher, the institution involved, and administrative action taken by the ORI, for a general understanding of the misconduct phenomenon.
After an overview of misconduct cases, I found that the researchers involved belonged to diverse research fields and professional stages, from Ph.D. students to Professors, and at the time of the misconduct were working in prestigious research institutions. For example, some researchers worked at the NIH or at renowned medical centers and universities. This makes me wonder whether these research institutions add too much pressure to their scientists to succeed as research agencies. I know the former reason is no justification to commit misconduct, but misconduct may be a simple expression of the broken system requesting high production rates from the scientific community. Or else is it simply a lack of professional ethics on the part of researchers?
Regarding the period the administrative sanctions will remain in force, I saw a range of 1 to 10 years of penalization. I believe that the magnitude of the misconduct is associated with the period of sanctions implemented. Nevertheless, the researcher’s reputation is damage independently to the period of sanction. I wonder if early students or postdocs, just starting their scientific careers, are less or more at risk of committing misconduct? For example, established professors may be less prone to misconduct considering the years of experience and the risk to lose their jobs and ruin their reputation -i.e., they have more to lose.
I found a case in which an Eminent Professor was discovered submitting an NIH grant application that included plagiarized text. This suggests that research agencies may be using software to detect plagiarized text. Faculty should be aware of automated detection of plagiarism considering some scientists use text from their previous publications. Thus, it is crucial to reduce plagiarism and employ proper citations and references to reduce risks of misconduct accusations in grant proposals. Sometimes we do not realize the consequences of a simple mistake to save some seconds of work.