In May, PRIM&R hosted the webinar Introduction to Research Misconduct for IACUC, IRB, and IBC Professionals. This webinar provided foundational knowledge in research misconduct for regulatory professionals who work in the human subjects protections and animal care and use fields. Topics included the definition of what is and what is not research misconduct, misconduct investigation processes at federal agencies and at institutions, and the possible impacts of a finding of misconduct on researchers and institutions.
The webinar was presented by two federal government representatives who review allegations of research misconduct in National Science Foundation (NSF) and Public Health Service (PHS)-funded research. Jim Kroll, PhD, director of Research Integrity and Administrative Investigations for the NSF’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Kathy Partin, PhD, director of the Office of Research Integrity in the Department of Health and Human Services, taught attendees to define, recognize, and appreciate the widespread impact of research misconduct on the research community at large.
After the webinar, Dr. Kroll responded to some of the attendee questions that time didn’t permit us to answer live. We’re pleased to share those answers with the readers of Ampersand.
Q: Do you have any advice for how to handle a situation where the complainant could have a valid allegation but cannot or will not be specific enough for the research integrity officer (RIO) to know where to begin?
A: There is no easy way to deal with a complainant who refuses to reveal adequate information to determine where to begin a review of a complaint. At the NSF OIG we see this from time to time and we diplomatically explain that without adequate information we cannot initiate a review of the matter. We try to help them understand that without adequate information, we may invest significant time and resources into the matter and never uncover the issue they claim exists. For example, saying that Investigator X has fabricated data is insufficient detail to initiate a review. However, a claim that the data for Figure 2 in Investigator X’s publication does not exist or was falsified may very well be adequate to initiate a review.
Q: Are there any best practices for establishing a research misconduct committee?
A: There are some best practices that come to mind. You must make certain that adequate review is done to ensure that committee members do not have a conflict of interest with the person being investigated (for example, they should not have been recently published with the accused and should not have a strong personal relationship with the accused). There should be at least one committee member with adequate background in the scientific discipline of the person being investigated, even if it means finding someone from a nearby university to sit on the committee. The committee members should also be available (no upcoming extended absences) to ensure the process moves forward in a timely fashion.
Q: Does NSF OIG identify and disclose institutions or researchers that have conducted research misconduct? If so, where is it located?
A: NSF OIG does not generally reveal the names of people who were investigated nor do we release institution names. However, a library of all case closeouts can be found on our website.
Q: Does it ever happen that there are malicious, unfounded accusations of misconduct? What is the best way to proceed with the person who made the accusations?
A: At NSF OIG we do sometimes see allegations that arise out of a personal grievance with an individual and the allegations have no merit. Sometimes it’s easy to spot these because the allegation lacks specificity or, often, the complaint includes numerous allegations that are of a more personal nature or fall more into a category of “lack of collegiality.” Often, we explain to them that we can only investigate matters that meet the specific definition of research misconduct or specifically violate a regulation or rule. If their allegations do not meet those criteria, we explain to them that their allegation must address a violation of these regulations or rules before we can initiate a review.
PRIM&R would like to thank Dr. Kroll for sharing his expertise with the readers of Ampersand!
The recording of this webinar is free for individual PRIM&R members to watch in the Knowledge Center Individual nonmembers may purchase access in the online store and groups may complete the order form (PDF).