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Misconduct in Science

Misconduct or scientific misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, reviewing or reporting on research. UMass Lowell’s definition also includes unsafe practices, failure to comply with regulations, misuse of funds, or other activities that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research.

It is the policy of UMass Lowell to require high ethical standards in research; to inquire into and, if necessary, investigate and resolve promptly and fairly all instances of alleged misconduct; and to comply in a timely manner with agency requirements for reporting on cases of possible misconduct when sponsored project funds are involved. UMass Lowell applies the research misconduct policies to all research activities, regardless of funding. To be considered research misconduct, actions must: 

  • Represent a “significant departure from accepted practices;”
  • Have been “committee intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly;” and
  • Be “proven by a preponderance of evidence.” 
Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion in interpretation or judgments of data. Since a charge of misconduct, even if unjustified, may damage an individual’s reputation and career, any such allegation must be handled in a prudent and confidential manner. An inquiry or investigation must be conducted promptly and expeditiously with full attention given to the rights of all individuals involved.

Misconduct in Scientific Research, Research Training or Related Activities

Policy and Procedures

Introduction

These guidelines provide a statement on integrity in research; describe the responsibilities of research personnel, administrators, and others in the academic community; and set forth the procedures for dealing with instances of alleged misconduct in research. The guidelines apply to all persons affiliated with University of Massachusetts Lowell and University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Trust Fund, whether the research is funded or not, and are applicable to faculty, project personnel, students and other trainees, and all other members of the research staff. Cases of research misconduct involving students are subject to the normal disciplinary rules governing students, but may be reviewed, as appropriate, under the guidelines. These guidelines apply to the conduct of research (or related activities), presentation or publication of results, the process of applying for funds, and the expenditure or fiscal reporting on the use of project funds.

It is the policy of the University of Massachusetts Lowell to require high ethical standards in research; to inquire into and, if necessary, investigate and resolve promptly and fairly all instances of alleged misconduct; and to comply in a timely manner with agency requirements for reporting on cases of possible misconduct when sponsored project funds are involved.

Since a charge of misconduct, even if unjustified, may damage an individual's reputation and career, any such allegation must be handled in a prudent and confidential manner. An inquiry or investigation must be conducted promptly and expeditiously with full attention given to the rights of all individuals involved.

Definitions

The terms "misconduct" or "scientific misconduct" as used in this policy includes fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, unsafe practices, failure to comply with regulations, misuse of funds, or other activities that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretation or judgments of data.


PROCESSING REPORTS OR MISCONDUCT IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND RESEARCH TRAINING OR RELATED ACTIVITIES

l. Complaint

A. To deal with cases involving research, research training, applications for support of research or research training, or related activities, the Chancellor for the University will appoint, on an annual basis, a Standing Committee on Conduct in Science (SCCS) consisting of three individuals, two tenured faculty members and one administrator. The Committee shall serve as an advisory panel to the Chancellor on general and specific matters relating to misconduct in scientific research and scholarship. If the Chancellor believes it is appropriate in a particular case, he/she may request the SCCS to act as a fact-finding panel. All procedures and guidelines adopted by the SCCS are subject to review and approval by the Chancellor.

B. Any member of the University Community who becomes aware of an apparent instance of scientific misconduct relating to research has the responsibility to try to resolve the issue if possible, in consultation with those directly involved. If consultation is inappropriate or unsuccessful, a person having good-faith belief that misconduct in scientific research or scholarship has occurred, or is occurring, in the University should communicate the allegation(s) in writing (signed or anonymous) to the faculty supervisor in the case of student/staff, or department chair/center director in the case of faculty/research scientist. If it is not appropriate to communicate the allegation to the faculty supervisor or Department Chair/Center Director, the written report should be made to the next level of supervision, i.e., the Dean or Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology In all cases, the written report of the allegation should be reported to the appropriate Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology who will inform the SCCS for informational purpose only.

C. The Chancellor will appoint a faculty member for a two-year term to serve as a monitor to the process outlined in this policy. Copies of all written documents including the allegation, investigation reports, notifications, etc. will be sent to the monitor by the author and the recipient. The monitor will be responsible for maintaining a log of these documents and tracking their progress through the various steps of the policy until a resolution is reached. The monitor will, if necessary, contact responsible parties to determine why the required deadlines are not met. The faculty monitor is responsible for informing the Chancellor if the guidelines in the policy are not being following in the course of the investigations. At the conclusion of the investigation all records will be sent to the Chancellor's Office for permanent storage.

D. An anonymous allegation, while lacking a certain measure of credibility, will not be rejected out of hand if sufficient factual information is provided which would permit an objective investigation of the allegation in the absence of a complainant. The Chair/Center Director should verify the presence or absence of scientific misconduct and report the conclusions to the appropriate Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology within 5 working days of first receiving the written or verbal report of allegation.

2. Fact Finding

A. The Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology in consultation with the Chair/Center Director and faculty supervisor where applicable shall, in the event the report is regarded as not frivolous, have five working days to appoint an appropriate fact-finding committee whose responsibility it is to gather factual information and, upon review, determine if further investigation of the charge is warranted. Unless specific circumstances exist which make it inappropriate to inform the accused individual(s) of the alleged misconduct, the individuals will be informed by the Dean/ Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology of the intent to establish a Fact-finding Committee.

B. The Fact-finding Committee, will have the following membership:

  • Two tenured faculty members
  • Executive Director of Research Trust Fund or his designee

The individuals chosen as fact-finders should have no real or apparent conflict of interest and have the appropriate background for judging the issues being made. The Committee may choose to consult with experts outside the University as appropriate.

C. The fact finding must be completed within 60 calendar days of its initiation unless circumstances clearly warrant a longer period. The Fact-finding Committee shall prepare and submit to the Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology a written report stating what evidence was reviewed, summarizing relevant interviews, and recommending a course of action including whether a full investigation should be conducted. If the inquiry takes longer than 60 days to complete, the Fact-finding Committee shall prepare documentation of the reasons for exceeding the 60-day period and include such in the record of the inquiry.

D. The Fact-finding Committee may have access to documents relating to the alleged misconduct and may interview the complainant and the subject of the complaint. It shall not, however, attempt to reach a decision on the merits of the complaint.

E. The Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology shall give a copy of the report of the Fact-finding Committee to the individual(s) against whom the allegation was made. If the individual(s) comment on that report, their comments will be made part of the record.

F. To the maximum extent possible, the privacy of the complainant who in good faith reported the apparent misconduct shall be protected.

G. A lack of cooperation with the Fact-finding Committee on the part of the individual(s) in question shall be deemed grounds for proceeding directly to the formal investigation.

H. The individual(s) accused shall be afforded confidential treatment to the maximum extent possible.

I. After receiving the written report of the Committee, the Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology will forward the findings of the Committee, along with his or her recommendations, in writing, to the SCCS who will determine whether to dismiss the case or to proceed with an investigation. The subject(s) of the complaint and the departmental chair will be notified in writing of the SCCS's decision.

J. If a decision not to investigate is rendered, all the information assembled in the course of the inquiry will be maintained in confidence to permit a later assessment of the reason for determining that an investigation was not warranted.

K. Such records shall be maintained for a period of at least three years after the termination of the inquiry, and shall, in the case of sponsored research, upon request, be provided to authorized personnel of the sponsoring agency.

3. Investigation

A. If the SCCS concludes that there is sufficient reason to believe that there has been an act of misconduct in scientific research or scholarship of sufficient gravity to warrant disciplinary action, the Chancellor shall be notified and the Dean/Vice Chancellor, Research and Technology shall notify the person(s) accused and may, if felt appropriate, discuss the allegations with that person. The SCCS shall conduct further investigation within 30 days of completion of the fact-finding inquiry. In addition, in the case of Public Health Service supporting research, the Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall notify the Director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Integrity ("OSI") when, on the basis of the initial inquiry, the SCCS determines that an investigation is warranted, or prior to the decision to initiate an investigation if one or more of the conditions listed below (on p. 8) exist. The Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall notify other sponsoring agencies as appropriate or as required by federal regulations.

B. If further investigation is undertaken, every effort should be made to complete the process within 120 days of the initiation of the Formal Investigation. If, at the end of this period, additional time is required, the SCCS will so notify the Chancellor in writing citing the reasons and providing a revised schedule for completion. In the case of Public Health Service supported research, the Chancellor shall advise the Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund to submit to the OSI a written request for an extension and an explanation for the delay that includes an interim report on the progress to date and an estimate for the date of completion of the report and other necessary steps. If the request is granted, the SCCS must file periodic progress reports as requested by the OSI.

C. The investigation normally will include examination of all documentation, including but not necessarily limited to relevant research data and proposals, publications, correspondence, and memoranda of telephone calls. Whenever possible, interviews should be conducted of all individuals involved either in making the allegation or against whom the allegation is made, as well as other individuals who might have information regarding key aspects of the allegations. The SCCS may, when appropriate, consult with experts from outside the institution. Complete summaries of these interviews should be prepared, provided to the interviewed party for comment or revision, and included as part of the investigatory files.

D. The SCCS shall insure that the documentation to substantiate the investigation's findings is prepared and maintained. A report with the following information will be prepared by the SCCS and submitted to the Chancellor

  1. A statement of the accusation.
  2. A statement of the findings.
  3. Presentation of the evidence or lack of evidence of misconduct.
  4. An evaluation of the seriousness of any misconduct found.
  5. Recommendations for further action.

A copy of the report will be sent to the accused for rebuttal. Any written rebuttal by the accused will be attached as an addendum to the report.

E. In the case of Public Health Service supported research, the documentation will be made available to the Director, OSI, and interim administrative actions shall be taken, as appropriate, to protect Federal funds and insure that the purposes of the Federal financial assistance are carried out. The Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall keep the OSI apprised of any developments during the course of the investigation which disclose facts that may affect current or potential HHS funding for the individual(s) under investigation or that PHS needs to know to ensure appropriate use of Federal funds and otherwise protect the public interest. In the case of research supported by other agencies, the Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall make documentation of the investigation available to these agencies as required by regulations or as requested.

4. Resolution

A. Upon recommendation of the Chancellor, disciplinary proceedings under applicable University policies concerning faculty members, staff or students shall then be instituted. Actions available to the University in these cases may include, but are not limited to:

  • Removal from particular project
  • Letter of reprimand
  • Special monitoring of future work
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Rank reduction
  • Termination of employment of faculty/staff
  • Expulsion of a student

B. Where applicable, the Chancellor shall initiate formal notification of other concerned parties, not previously notified, such as:

  • Co-authors, co-investigators, collaborators
  • Editors of journals in which fraudulent research was published
  • State professional licensing boards
  • Editors of journals or other publications,other institutions, sponsoring agencies, and funding sources with which the individual has been affiliated
  • Professional societies
  • Where appropriate, criminal authorities

C. If an investigation has been launched on the basis of a complaint, and no fraud or misconduct is found, no disciplinary measures should be taken against the complainant and every effort should be made to prevent retaliatory action against the complainant if the allegations, however incorrect, are found to have been made in good faith.

D. If the alleged misconduct is not substantiated by the investigation, formal efforts will be made to restore fully the reputation of the subject of the complaint. If it is further demonstrated that the charges were brought under malicious or dishonest circumstances, then the Chancellor may bring appropriate action against the complainant or others involved.

E. In the case of Public Health Service supported research, the Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall notify the OSI of the final outcome of the investigation. In the case of other supported research, the Executive Director will notify the affected agencies as required or as appropriate.

F. A permanent record of committee reports, exhibits, minutes of meetings, and other materials will be kept by the Chancellor. These records will be protected from release if release would compromise the conduct of an investigation, constitute unwarranted invasion of privacy, or reveal the content of communications or recommendations of action to be taken. In the case of sponsored projects, the Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund is responsible for determining and complying with reporting requirements; representing the University in all negotiations with the sponsor; and implementing any administrative actions that may be directed by the sponsor.

G. Consistent with the procedures described above, those responsible for the conduct of inquiries and investigations shall have at any time the authority to supplement and clarify applicable procedures, provided that adequate notice is given to persons affected by such actions.


ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES FOR REPORTED TO THE OSI IN THE CASE OF PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE SUPPORTED RESEARCH

5. Other Responsibilities

A. The SCCS's decision to initiate an investigation in a case involving PHS funding must be reported in writing to the Director, OSI, on or before the date the investigation begins. At a minimum, the notification should include the name of the person(s) against whom the allegations have been made, the general nature of the allegation, and the PHS application or grant number(s) involved.

B. An investigation should ordinarily be completed within 120 days of its initiating. This 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 OSI. If they can be identified, the person(s) who raised the allegation should be provided with those portions of the report that address their role and opinions in the investigation.

C. Where an inquiry or investigation is to be terminated for any reason without completing the requirements outlined above, a report of such planned termination, including a description of the reasons for such termination, shall be made to OSI.

D. The final report submitted to the OSI shall describe the policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted, and how and from whom information was obtained relevant to the investigation, the findings, the basis for the findings, and include the actual text or an accurate summary of the views of any individual(s) found to have engaged in misconduct, as well as a description of any sanctions taken by the institution.

E. The SCCS shall advise the Chancellor, who in turn shall notify the OSI, if it is determined at any stage of the inquiry or investigation that any of the following conditions exist:

  1. There is an immediate health hazard involved;
  2. There is an immediate need to protect federal funds or equipment;
  3. There is an immediate need to protect the interests of the person(s) making the allegations as well as his/her co-investigators and associates, if any;
  4. It is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly;
  5. There is a reasonable indication of possible criminal violation. In that instance, the Chancellor shall inform OSI within 24 hours of obtaining that information.

F. The Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall, on an annual basis, submit a written assurance to OSI that the University (1) has an established administrative process to review reports of scientific misconduct in biomedical or behavioral research, and (2) will report to the Secretary of HHS any investigation of alleged scientific misconduct that appears substantial.

G. The Executive Director of the Research Trust Fund shall also submit aggregate information on allegations, inquiries, and investigations as mandated by the Secretary of HHS.


CONCLUSION

Misconduct in scientific research and scholarship is a violation of University policy. It undermines the integrity of scholarly endeavors in the greater academic community. The University encourages serious and well-intentioned efforts to expose misconduct and will take appropriate action against individuals who are responsible for it. Frivolous and maliciously false accusations of misconduct can equally undermine academic integrity. The University will take appropriate action against those who abuse this process.