Researchers are expected to adhere to ethical, legal, and professional guidelines that structure how research is conducted. The consequences that research misconduct can have are considerable and potentially disastrous. For one, misconduct can irreparably erode trust among colleagues. It can erode trust between researchers and funding agencies, which may make it more difficult for colleagues at the same institution to receive grants. More importantly, research misconduct can cause the public to lose confidence in the ability and integrity of researchers.
Georgia Tech and other academic institutions have policies and procedures in place for investigating and resolving alleged occurrences of research misconduct. Depending on the type and severity of the allegation, an investigation might be conducted by a government agency. For instance, if the research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services might examine the case.
In accordance with U.S. federal policy, there are three forms of research misconduct: plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification.
According to the Federal Policy on Research Misconduct, “Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.” Norms can vary within different fields concerning the proper way in which to attribute credit, so it is crucially important for researchers to familiarize themselves with relevant citation conventions.
According to the Federal Policy on Research Misconduct, “Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.” In other words, fabrication is the practice of generating data without having performed the relevant research. Research findings should not be discussed, shared, or published unless the work has been genuinely undertaken.
According to the Federal Policy on Research Misconduct, “Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.” Selectively eliminating data points resulting from an intent to generate a misleading conclusion is one example of falsification.
A mechanism that helps to ensure that research is conducted responsibly is if occurrences of misconduct are reported. One way this can come about is through whistleblowing. Whistleblowing typically refers to the act of notifying someone outside of your normal reporting structure or an external entity, such as a government agency, about a practice that is believed to violate ethical, legal, or professional norms. In general, whistleblowing should only be used as a last resort if other options have been tried and the problem has not been remedied.
Researchers must be careful to assess whether a suspected incident of misconduct is genuine and not merely the byproduct of a misunderstanding. Researchers should be careful to avoid letting a personal conflict or a professional difference of opinion drive them to file a misconduct complaint. An allegation of research misconduct is a serious matter that should only be reserved for situations where evidence indicates that there is a deviation from ethical, legal, or professional norms. It must be sincerely believed that a colleague has committed an act that qualifies as misconduct, such as taking part in data fabrication, before information about the incident is reported.