Policy for the Investigation of an Allegation of Research Misconduct

Policy statement

  1. As stated in the University Code of Practice on Research Integrity, the University is committed to the highest standards in its research, underpinned by the quality of the research process, from conception through to dissemination and application. In this, it recognises its obligation to the wider research community and to society as a whole to uphold the integrity of academic research. The University also has a responsibility to ensure that the funds it receives are spent in accordance with the legitimate expectations of the funding providers and the law and in the public interest.
  2. The University has a duty to the research community to investigate allegations of research misconduct; serious potential risks are incurred by the University in terms of reputation and funding as well as the safety of those involved in research if such allegations are not dealt with effectively.
  3. In accordance with the University Code of Practice on Research Integrity, any breaches of statutory or regulatory requirements will be handled as required by the statutory or regulatory framework. If details of a case suggest that a criminal offence has taken place, or is taking place, then police involvement will be considered.
  4. The PVCR should also be advised as soon as possible if evidence of practice which breaches the University's ethical framework as outlined in the Code of practice and principles for good ethical governance comes to light.
  5. The University formally endorses the UUK Concordat to support research integrity (2012). In addition, this policy draws on a number of other sources of guidance within the sector, including:
    • RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct, February 2013 (rev. 2015 and 2017)
    • UK RIO Code of Practice for Research: Promoting good practice and preventing misconduct (2009)
    • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Investigating Research Misconduct Allegations in International Collaborative Research Projects, A Practical Guide 2009
  6. This policy and procedure applies to situations where alleged unacceptable, intentional and/or reckless behaviour or actions are deemed to constitute research misconduct. Section 2 provides details of what may constitute Research Misconduct.
  7. Poor research practices, such as weak procedures, inadequate documentation of procedures or inadequate record-keeping, may require further training or development and/or in the case of staff consideration under the University's Capability Procedure and Guidelines.
  8. Those engaged in research should also have regard to any other discipline-specific guidance.

Equality and diversity

  1. To ensure fair treatment and, where appropriate, provision of support by the University in the application of this procedure, members of staff or Research Students should be encouraged to provide information about any equality or diversity issues which may be relevant. In the case of a disability or language issue a member of staff or Research Student may be accompanied by an appropriate person to provide support.
  2. At all stages of the procedure, those investigating allegations of Research Misconduct should check if there are any special arrangements, e.g. support for a disability, that a member of staff, or Research Student or the individual who is accompanying them may require to enable them to participate fully in the procedure. Appropriate guidance may be sought from the HR Partner or HR Advisor. Correspondence in relation to this procedure will invite the member of staff or Research Student to inform the University if they require additional support.
  3. It is a requirement that those investigating allegations of Research Misconduct will have had appropriate training, are aware of the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and of good practice in relation to equality and diversity.
  4. The possibility that research misconduct may arise from misunderstandings due to ethnic/cultural/gender/disability or other issues should also be considered and the Equality and Diversity Office/Disability Office consulted as appropriate. Cases in this category will be dealt with sympathetically.

Definition of research misconduct

Research Misconduct is characterised as behaviour or actions that fall short of the expected high standards of research integrity and includes the following which form part of the RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct, February 2013 (rev. 2015 and 2017)

Research Misconduct may include, but is not limited to the following:

Fabrication

This comprises the creation of false data or other aspects of research including documentation and participant consent.

Falsification

This comprises the inappropriate manipulation and/or selection of data, imagery and/or consents.

Plagiarism

This comprises the misappropriation or use of others' ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise) without acknowledgement or permission.

Misrepresentation, including

  • Misrepresentation of data eg. suppression of relevant findings and/or data, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence, presenting a flawed interpretation of data
  • Undisclosed duplication of publication, including undisclosed duplicate submission of manuscripts for publication
  • Misrepresentation of interests, including failure to declare material interests either of the researcher, the funder of the research or of participants
  • Misrepresentation of qualifications and/or experience, including claiming or implying qualifications or experience which are not held
  • Misrepresentation of involvement, such as inappropriate claims to authorship and/or attribution of work where there has been no significant contribution, or the denial or authorship where an author has made a significant contribution

Breach of duty of care whether deliberately, recklessly or by gross negligence including

  • Disclosing improperly the identity of individuals or groups involved in research without their consent, or other breach of confidentiality
  • Placing any of those involved in research in danger, whether as subjects, participants or associated individuals, without their prior consent, and without appropriate safeguards even with consent; this includes reputational danger where that can be anticipated
  • Not taking all reasonable care to ensure that the risks and dangers, the broad objectives and the sponsors of the research are known to participants or their legal representatives, to ensure appropriate informed consent is obtained properly, explicitly and transparently
  • Not observing legal and reasonable ethical requirements or obligations of care for animal subjects, human organs or tissue used in research, or for the protection of the environment
  • Improper conduct in peer review of research proposals or results (including manuscripts submitted for publication); this includes failure to disclose conflicts of interest; inadequate disclosure of clearly limited competence; misappropriation of the content of material; and breach of confidentiality or abuse of material provided in confidence for peer review purposes

Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct

  • Failing to address possible infringements including attempts to cover up misconduct or reprisals against whistle-blowers
  • Failing to deal appropriately with malicious allegations, which should be handled formally as breaches of acceptable conduct

Scope

  1. This policy and procedure applies to all those undertaking research under the University's auspices. Research is defined according to the Frascati definition: see https://www.york.ac.uk/staff/research/external-funding/research/
  2. This includes both research undertaken on the University's premises using its facilities, and research undertaken on its behalf, by staff, research students, visiting or emeritus staff, associates, honorary or clinical contract holders, contractors and consultants. It applies across all subject disciplines and fields of study.Allegations of misconduct by research students in part of their formal assessments (including but not limited to Annual Reviews of Progress, Thesis and Oral Examination) will be dealt with under the Assessment Misconduct Policy for PGRs in the University's Policy on Research Degrees. Allegations of research misconduct involving research students, outwith the assessment process fall under this procedure for investigation. Where there is doubt, this policy takes precedence.
  3. Where a member of staff is also a research student and their employment is research related, the staffing elements of the policy will take precedence.
  4. This policy and procedure do not apply to misconduct or gross misconduct unrelated to research activities and processes which are covered by the University's Disciplinary Procedure
  5. Other procedures are available for individuals to raise and resolve issues of different concern e.g. the Public Interest Disclosure Policy and Procedures the Procedure for Suspected Financial Misconduct and the Grievance Procedure

Aims

  1. The aim of the procedure is to deal with allegations of research misconduct fairly and transparently. It provides a framework for an effective, thorough and sensitive response to allegations of research misconduct.
  2. The procedure sets out how allegations of research misconduct will be dealt with both informally and formally.

Principles

  1. The following overarching principles for investigating allegations of research misconduct have been derived from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Investigating Research Misconduct Allegations in International Collaborative Research Projects, A Practical Guide 2009
  2. Allegations of Research Misconduct will be dealt with in accordance with the following principles:
    • Fairness

      • Investigations into allegations of research misconduct will be conducted in a manner that is fair to all parties
      • Individuals against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made will be provided with full details of the allegation(s) in writing and provided with the opportunity to respond to them including provision for asking questions, presenting evidence, calling relevant witnesses and providing responses to information presented
      • The University recognises that it must protect staff and Research Students from allegations of research misconduct which are frivolous, vexatious, malicious or reckless or wholly without substance. Appropriate action will be taken under the University's Disciplinary Procedure against any individual who is found to have made such an allegation.
    • Integrity

      • Investigations into allegations of research misconduct will be fair, comprehensive and conducted expediently but without compromising accuracy, objectivity and thoroughness
      • Individuals who are involved in the procedure must ensure that any interests they have which might cause a conflict of interest are disclosed to their HoD or to the PVCR at the earliest opportunity so they may be managed appropriately
    • Confidentiality

      • The procedure will be conducted as confidentially as possible, in order to protect those involved in an investigation provided this does not compromise the investigation of the allegation(s), or health and safety of participants in the research
      • Where possible any disclosure to third parties should be made on a confidential basis
      • If the University and/or its staff have legal obligations to inform third parties - for example funding bodies - of allegations of research misconduct, those obligations must be fulfilled at the appropriate time through the correct mechanism
  3. Allegations of research misconduct will be investigated with a commitment to there being no detriment and a balanced approach:
    • No detriment

      • No individual against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made will have any sanction taken against them unless and until the allegation(s) have been upheld
      • At any stage in the procedure, if appropriate, an employee may be suspended. Suspension is not a penalty and is not an indication of culpability and will be on full pay
      • No individual who makes allegations of research misconduct against another individual in good faith will have any sanction taken against them
    • Balance

      • A balance may need to be struck by an investigating officer between disclosure of identities and confidentiality. Such decisions will be based on the primary aim of determining whether the allegations are founded
      • Consideration will be given to the steps to be taken to reasonably and appropriately restore reputations
      • Proportionate action will be taken against individuals considered to have committed research misconduct

Compliance with the requirements of funding bodies

The University will consider the contractual details specific to the research project(s) concerned. The University will establish whether it has any contractual/legal obligations towards a funding body to ensure that any such obligations are fulfilled at the appropriate time through the correct mechanisms. Staff from the Research Grants and Contracts (RGC) Office will be involved to determine such contractual/legal obligations and will initiate the necessary action with the funding body, advising the PVCR as appropriate.

Raising concerns (whistleblowing)

  1. An individual may raise a matter under the University's Speak Up Policy https://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/policies/information/speak-up/ which may be investigated under the Research Misconduct Policy
  2. The Pro Vice Chancellor for Research is the University's named point of contact to act as confidential liaison for whistleblowers relating to research
  3. Any matter raised in good faith under this procedure will be investigated thoroughly, promptly and confidentially, and the outcome of the investigation reported back to the member of staff who raised the issue.
  4. The University will not tolerate victimisation of a member of staff or Research Student for raising a matter under this procedure. The continued employment and opportunities for future promotion or training of the member of staff will not be prejudiced because s/he has raised a legitimate concern.
  5. Victimisation of a member of staff or Research Student for raising a legitimate concern will be considered under this policy and procedure and dealt with under the University's Disciplinary Procedure.
  6. Investigations into allegations of research misconduct will be conducted as speedily as possible and with this in mind indicative timescales have been set out in the Procedure. Depending on the nature and complexity of the allegation(s), adjustments to these timescales may be agreed.
  7. Individuals involved are expected to cooperate fully to ensure timely conclusion of an investigation including making themselves available to attend meetings and arranging accompaniment if appropriate.

Assessment of the allegation(s)

A reasonable and critical approach to evidence concerning allegations of research misconduct will be applied and will be evaluated to determine:

  1. The seriousness of the matter
  2. Whether other bodies should be notified
  3. The nature of the matter (is it included within the definition of research misconduct or a questionable research practice) and
  4. Whether there is sufficient evidence to support a preliminary enquiry or formal investigation

Two-stage process for consideration of allegations of research misconduct

  1. The individual making allegations of research misconduct is referred to as the complainant and the individual against whom allegations of research misconduct have been made is referred to as the respondent.
  2. The Chair of the Departmental Research Committee (CDRC) - or another senior member of staff from the DRC nominated by the HoD - will conduct a preliminary enquiry and the Head of Department (HoD) will conduct a formal investigation. For ease of reference, the HoD is referred to as the Investigating Officer (IO) for the formal investigation
  3. If the complaint is against the individual's HoD (or within the HoD's research group) it should be made directly to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (PVCR) and this should be reported in the notification to the PVCR; if it is against the PVCR it should be made directly to the Vice-Chancellor (VC) who will appoint another senior manager to act in the case.
  4. In exceptional circumstances the University will consider an investigation by a panel including a third party if deemed appropriate
  5. The procedure has a two-stage process for consideration of allegations of research misconduct which are detailed below.

Stage 1 - Preliminary Enquiry

  1. On receipt of an allegation of Research Misconduct the HoD should inform the PVC for Research and seek advice from the Research Strategy and Policy Office. RSP will inform the Research Grants and Contracts Office - when required - and the HR Partner or HR Advisor for staff matters. In the case of a Research Student, the HoD should also inform the Dean of the Graduate Research School.
  2. The HoD will request the CDRC to carry out the preliminary enquiry. The HR Partner or HR Advisor will provide advice and support to the CDRC when carrying out a preliminary enquiry. In the case of a Research Student, Research Student Administration will provide advice and support.
  3. Allegations of research misconduct should initially be considered in a preliminary enquiry to:
    • Ensure that a relatively quick decision can be made as to whether the allegation contains sufficient evidence to proceed to a formal investigation within a specified time
    • Be the responsibility of a senior member of the Department which will usually be the Chair of the Departmental Research Committee (CDRC)
    • Provide an opportunity for response by a complainant if the allegation is not accepted and if s/he believes s/he has been misunderstood or key evidence overlooked
    • The CDRC may seek advice if necessary from an expert in the particular field of research (who may be either internal or external to the University) to establish matters of fact relating to the research on a confidential basis

Stage 2 - Formal Investigation

The following principles will apply to the conduct of a formal investigation:

  1. A formal investigation will be undertaken by a senior member of staff which will usually be the HoD unless this is impracticable. This is on the basis that the investigator should be someone with sufficient knowledge and experience of research and with relevant experience of investigating procedures. The HoD is referred to hereafter as the Investigating Officer
  2. All individuals facing allegations of research misconduct will be properly informed of them
  3. In serious cases, suspension will be considered where the presence of an individual is likely to hinder an investigation or where it would be difficult for an individual to perform their duties whilst this stage of an investigation is being conducted
  4. If an individual is suspended, the funding bodies which sponsor any research or postgraduate training with which the individual is involved should be advised
  5. The formal investigation will be completed as quickly as possible, and within the timescales detailed in this procedure unless there are exceptional circumstances that prevent this
  6. If the allegations are dismissed at this stage, a clear statement must be made to the complainant and the respondent, and to any other individuals who will have been aware of the allegations and need to know the outcome
  7. Consideration will be given to the steps to be taken to reasonably and appropriately restore reputations

Outcome(s) of the procedure

Possible findings of an investigation into allegations of research misconduct may include the following:

  1. The evidence has established that research misconduct has not taken place and the allegation is unfounded
  2. The evidence has established that research misconduct has not taken place but that there appears to be a capability or competency issue which may be resolved through stated recommended actions including referral for consideration under the University's Capability Procedure or in the case of a Research Student via a report to the Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School who will make recommendations to the Special Cases Committee.
  3. The evidence has established that research misconduct has taken place and it is recommended that action is taken forward under the University's Disciplinary Procedure or in the case of a Research Student to the Special Cases Committee
  4. There is insufficient evidence to reach a definitive conclusion, setting out the reasoning for this and recommending any possible methods for closure.

Representation

Both the complainant and the respondent may be accompanied to meetings throughout the formal procedure by a work colleague or trade union representative or student representative in the case of Research Student. Requests to be accompanied by a work colleague or trade union representative or student representative in the case of Research Student during the informal stage of the procedure shall be considered where they are likely to assist in the resolution of the case. Legal representation/attendance at meetings is not permitted as part of the Research Misconduct procedure.

Collaborative working

  1. The University will work with partner institutions to ensure the agreement of, and compliance with, agreed standards and procedures for the conduct of collaborative research, including the resolution of any issues or problems that may arise and the investigation of any allegations of research misconduct.
  2. The University is only empowered to investigate activities that have occurred within its precincts or that have been undertaken on its behalf but if necessary, it may request that the employing organisation either cooperates in the investigation or undertakes its own investigation. This will also apply in the case of researchers who are employed by other HEIs but who are undertaking research on University premises.
  3. Where staff are joint appointments for example Clinical Academics in HYMS, joint oversight of an investigation may be appropriate where the research has involved both University facilities and other facilities for example hospitals or patients.
  4. The University will apply the principles in the Russell Group statement of cooperation to investigations into research misconduct allegations

Termination of procedures at the informal enquiry, formal investigation or disciplinary stages

  1. If the research misconduct procedure is terminated at any stage (for example by the resignation of an individual or withdrawal of the research student) without the conclusion that the allegations should be dismissed, the University will consider the seriousness of allegations outstanding, the strength of evidence supporting the allegations and the implications for the future research career of the individual in deciding whether or not to continue to a conclusion of the investigation. This is in order to protect the integrity of research undertaken at the University.
  2. Where an individual - against whom serious unresolved concerns about research misconduct remain - has resigned (or withdrawn in the case of a research student) before an investigation has been concluded, s/he will be requested to see the investigation or hearing (in the case of staff under the University's Disciplinary Procedure) through to conclusion. If s/he does not agree to this, s/he should be advised that the details of the outstanding case may (without prejudice) be passed to any future employer or legitimate enquirer about their career at the University, and may also be passed to any appropriate regulatory or professional supervisory body.
  3. This principle will also apply in relation to a member of staff who no longer works for the University or a research student who has withdrawn or completed.

Record-keeping

  1. Full and confidential records will be kept of an investigation in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998. Case records concerning the investigation and resolution of allegations of research misconduct will be retained securely for 6 years from the last action on a case.
  2. Records will be kept in order that cumulative evidence of repeated allegations that could indicate a pattern of behaviour may be dealt with appropriately.

Review of policy and procedure

This policy and procedure will be reviewed three years after implementation.