Misconduct in Science

A. Purpose

This policy establishes procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of scientific misconduct, and for the required notifications to federal agencies of such allegations and investigations.

B. Revision history

Originally issued: March 2000

C. Persons affected

This policy shall apply to any individual at Northwestern Health Sciences University participating in research funded by the PHS or NSF. Collaborators, subrecipients, and subcontractors from other academic, not-for-profit, or commercial entities must also comply with this policy or provide an institutional certification stating that they are in compliance with Federal policies regarding scientific misconduct.  

D. Related research policy documents

Rights and Responsibilities in the Conduct of Research

E. Policy

Introduction

Each member of Northwestern Health Sciences University has a responsibility to foster an environment which promotes intellectual honesty and integrity, and which does not tolerate misconduct in any aspect of research or scholarly endeavor. Scientific misconduct is extremely troubling--in spite of its infrequency--because when it occurs, it is very destructive of the standards we attempt to instill in our students, of the esteem in which academic science in general is held by the public, and of the financial support of the government and other sponsors for academic scientific enterprise. Therefore, this policy has been established to emphasize the importance of integrity in research.

This policy does not supplant nor obviate any provisions of the University's policy on Review and Grievance Procedures for Faculty as stated in the Faculty Handbook, but instead addresses issues of scientific misconduct for participants in PHS and/or NSF projects. Also, this policy addresses only scientific misconduct. Allegations or suspicions of misconduct outside the scope of this policy should be directed to the appropriate department head; the process of investigation and reporting obligations may differ from those required for scientific misconduct cases.

Applicable regulations

The U. S. Public Health Service (PHS) regulations in 42 CFR Part 50, and 45 CFR Part 94 became effective August 8, 1989, and carry the weight of federal regulation. Both NSF and NIH require that policies and procedures are developed to ensure:

  • an impartial process for receipt and disposition of allegations of scientific misconduct;
  • protection of the integrity of the research, research subjects, and the public;
  • observance of legal requirements and responsibilities;
  • notification to sponsoring agency of allegations, inquiries, and investigations as prescribed
  • protection of the person(s) bringing the allegation; and,
  • maintenance of records relating to this policy, for at least three years following the termination of a given project.

While both PHS and NSF recognize that the primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, and investigation of misconduct rests with the awarded institution, they both retain the right to initiate their own investigations at any time.

Definitions

Scientific Misconduct

Fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data. Also included as scientific misconduct for this purpose is retaliation of any kind against a person who, acting in good faith, reported or provided information about suspected or alleged misconduct.

Inquiry

Information-gathering and preliminary fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or an apparent instance of misconduct warrants an investigation. The outcome of an inquiry is a determination as to whether or not an investigation is to be conducted.

Investigation

A formal examination and evaluation of relevant facts to determine whether or not misconduct has taken place.

Procedures

Response to an allegation of misconduct in research will be carried out promptly by conducting an inquiry and, if the findings from the inquiry determine it to be necessary, by conducting a full investigation.

1. Initial Response to an Allegation

Any allegation of misconduct should immediately be brought in written form to the attention of the Vice President and Provost.

2. Initial Inquiry

Upon receiving a report of misconduct, the Vice President and Provost will conduct an initial inquiry as expeditiously as possible with a goal of completing the initial inquiry within sixty (60) days. The Vice President and Provost may appoint an ad hoc committee to conduct the initial inquiry and make a recommendation. The initial inquiry is not a formal hearing, but a gathering and reviewing of facts to determine whether a full investigation is warranted or, alternatively, whether the facts do not sufficiently support the need for a full investigation.

The individual for whom disciplinary action is being considered will be given written notice of charges against him or her, including references to the time, place, others present, etc., when the alleged acts occurred. This notice must reasonably inform the individual of the specific activity that is the basis of the charge. The accused individual will be afforded confidential treatment to the maximum extent possible. It is normally expected that persons having or reasonably believed to have direct knowledge or information about the activity that is the basis of the charge will be consulted and that those consulted will maintain the confidence of the consultation. The person or persons bringing charges of misconduct may request that their identity be withheld during this stage of the initial inquiry, but their identity must be disclosed to the accused should the process proceed to the stage of formal investigation. The accused will be invited to make an initial response to the Vice President and Provost in writing or, at his or her option, to respond in person.

Based on the charge and response (if any) of the accused, the Vice President and Provost shall make a decision falling into one of two categories:

  • That insufficient grounds have been presented to warrant further pursuit of the allegation and, therefore, that the accused will be subject to no discipline. The Vice President and Provost will maintain sufficiently detailed documentation of inquiries to permit a later assessment, if necessary, of the reasons for determining that an investigation was not warranted. Records will be kept for at least three years and shall, upon request, be provided to authorized funding agency personnel.
  • That there is presumptive evidence for misconduct and that an investigation is warranted. If so, the Vice President and Provost will notify the accused in writing summarizing the evidence received, relevant interviews, and the conclusions of the inquiry. An investigation will be initiated within thirty (30) days of completion of the inquiry.

If the Vice President and Provost concludes that presumptive evidence for misconduct exists, the accused will be so notified the matter will be referred to the appropriate committee whether permanent or ad hoc.

3. Investigation

The purpose of the investigation is to explore further the allegations reviewed during the initial inquiry in order to determine if misconduct has actually occurred. The investigation will be carried out promptly and in confidence so that the risk to the reputation of the person under inquiry is minimized.

The investigative committee will include individuals with knowledge and background appropriate to carry out the investigation. In appointing the committee, the Vice President and Provost will also take precautions against real or apparent conflicts of interest on the part of members. Such conflicts of interest may include: administrative dependency, close personal relationships, collaborative relationships, financial interest, or scientific bias. The committee members will be expected to state in writing that they have no conflicts of interest.

This committee will be given the notice of charges (as provided the accused) and will be charged to investigate the matter. In its investigation, the committee will be expected to do the following:

  • secure necessary and appropriate expertise to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence;
  • interview persons having or reasonably believed to have direct knowledge or information about the activity that is the basis for the charge;
  • review documentary evidence;
  • advise the accused of the evidence against him or her;
  • offer the accused an opportunity to respond and present evidence on his or her behalf; and
  • maintain detailed minutes of the investigation.

As in the initial inquiry, it is expected that those consulted will maintain the confidence of the consultations. Complete summaries of interviews with witnesses shall be prepared, provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision, and included as a part of the investigatory file. All records of the investigation will be maintained under the control of the Provost.

The investigation will be conducted as expeditiously as possible with a goal of being completed within 120 days. This period includes conducting the investigation, preparing the report of findings, making that report available for comment by the subjects of the investigation, and submitting the report to the Vice President and Provost for decision and submission to the Office of Scientific Integrity or the appropriate agency.

4. Findings of the Investigation

A final written report containing the methods of procedure, how and from whom the information was obtained, conclusions, and recommendations of the committee will be submitted to the Vice President and Provost with a copy to the accused at the end of the investigation. If the committee finds facts that appear to constitute a breach of relevant University or scientific community standards of performance and conduct, the committee's report shall state the nature of the breach and assess the seriousness of the breach. The accused shall have full access to all evidence that may form the basis of discipline reasonably prior to the imposition of that discipline, including knowledge of the person or persons alleging misconduct. Only with such full access is the accused afforded an adequate opportunity to refute or explain the evidence. Thus, evidence normally must be acquired for use in the formal investigation with no assurances of confidentiality of sources. If such an assurance of confidentiality must be given to facilitate investigation, the evidence obtained under that assurance may not be used as a basis of disciplinary action.

After receiving the report with findings of fact from the committee, the Vice President and Provost will reach a decision and determine if disciplinary action will be taken against the accused. The severity of the discipline shall not exceed a level that is reasonably commensurate with the seriousness of the cause. Diligent efforts will be made to restore reputations of persons alleged to have engaged in misconduct when allegations are not supported.

5. Notification of Research Sponsors

The Public Health Service requires Northwestern Health Sciences University to submit annual assurances of compliance as well as aggregated information on allegations, inquiries, and investigations. Further, in accord with PHS and NSF regulations, in cases involving research funded by either of those agencies, the Vice President and Provost will submit the following information to the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), or other appropriate agency:

  • outcome of an inquiry;
  • commencement of an investigation;
  • written request for a time extension;
  • interim reports;
  • early termination; or
  • final outcome of an investigation.

Also, the Vice President and Provost will provide emergency notifications to the OSI or other appropriate agency during any stage of the inquiry if it appears that any of the following conditions exist:

  • there is an immediate health hazard involved;
  • there is an immediate need to protect federal funds or equipment or there is a need to protect the funding agency's resources, reputation, or other interests;
  • there is an immediate need to protect the interests of the person making the allegations or of the individual who is the subject of the allegations as well as his/her co-investigators and associates, if any;
  • it is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly;
  • the scientific community or the public should be informed; or
  • there is a reasonable indication of possible criminal violation. In that instance, the University will inform the OSI or the appropriate agency within 24 hours of obtaining that information.

Appeals

A person who has been disciplined may file a grievance with the appropriate University committee within sixty (60) days after notification of the discipline. After a final decision is reached on the appeal, the accused and all others who were informed about the investigation will be promptly and formally notified of the results of the appeal.

Sanctions

The disciplinary actions or sanctions may include, but are not limited to, any of the following:

  • reprimand;
  • a requirement to correct or retract publications affected by the findings of the investigation
  • a special program for monitoring future research activities;
  • removal from a project;
  • reduction in salary and/or rank;
  • probation;
  • suspension; or
  • termination of employment.

Both PHS and NSF have the right to impose additional sanctions, beyond those applied by the institution, upon investigators or institutions, if they deem such action appropriate in situations involving funding from their respective agency.

If the initiation of allegations of misconduct is found to be maliciously motivated, appropriate disciplinary action will be taken against the complainant. If allegations, however incorrect, are found to have been made in good faith, no disciplinary measure will be taken against the complainant and efforts will be made to assure that no retaliatory actions occur.

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