College Policy on Scientific Misconduct
Science rests on a foundation of mutual trust. To an extraordinary degree, that trust is thoroughly justified. But scientists are subject to all human frailties and temptations, including at times the temptation to engage in scientific misconduct. Though such misconduct is rare, once misconduct is detected, it must be dealt with quickly and forcefully in order to sustain the atmosphere of trust necessary for science. Not only must individual scientists behave in a trustworthy manner, scientists must also take collective responsibility for detecting, judging, and controlling scientific misconduct. This is not an easy task for an enterprise founded on integrity; trust must not be replaced with suspiciousness. However, when there is ample reason to suspect misconduct, that information should be brought to the attention of individuals responsible for assuring that scientists connected with their institution are behaving responsibly. To that end, Rhode Island College has established a policy on scientific misconduct, has designated institutional officers responsible for receiving allegations of scientific misconduct, and has created a process for resolving such allegations.
To be fair and effective, all policies on scientific misconduct must contain procedures capable of distinguishing instances of genuine and serious misconduct from insignificant deviations from acceptable practices, technical violations of rules, simple carelessness, and minor infractions. The policy proposed in this document will allow such distinctions to be made in a manner that minimizes disruptiveness and protects the conscientious, honest scientist from false or mistaken accusations.
- The serious deviation, such as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, from accepted practices in carrying out research or in reporting the results of research.
- The substantial failure to comply with requirements affecting specific aspects of the conduct of research, e.g., the protection of human subjects and the welfare of laboratory animals.
An information-gathering and initial fact-finding to determine whether an allegation of misconduct warrants an investigation.
A formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if an instance of misconduct has taken place. If misconduct is confirmed, the investigation should determine the seriousness of the offense and the extent of any adverse effects resulting from the misconduct.
- To maximize confidentiality for the respondent during the inquiry and investigative phase, and for the complainant during the inquiry phase without compromising the fact-finding and evaluation needs,
- To assure the respondent a fair opportunity to present supporting data and information,
- To minimize the number of individuals involved in the inquiry and investigative stages without compromising the fact-finding and evaluation needs.
Procedures for Dealing with Allegations of Scientific Misconduct
- Allegations of misconduct should be reported immediately in writing to the Dean of the College in whose School or Division the incident occurred and in which the accused is employed. All such allegations shall be signed. The confidentiality of those who in good faith report apparent misconduct will be maximized to the extent possible.
- After consultation with the Provost, the Dean shall conduct an inquiry (which shall include informal consultation with the accused) into the circumstances of the allegations and determine whether there are sufficient grounds to indicate that these have validity. The alleged offender shall in all cases be informed of the nature of the charges. Except under very extenuating circumstances, as judged by the Dean, the alleged offender shall also be informed of the source of the charges. The Dean shall attempt to complete this initial inquiry within 30 days. In the event of allegations involving individuals from more than one School and/or Division, the Provost will designate an individual to initiate an inquiry and, if necessary, a subsequent investigation in accordance with the procedures described herein.
- If the Dean finds sufficient evidence to suggest that the allegations may be true, and after consultation with the Provost and the Director of the Office of Research & Grants Administration, the Dean shall appoint an appropriate investigative body to conduct a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine whether misconduct has taken place. The appointment of this investigative body shall be left to the discretion of the Dean, subject to the approval of the Provost.
- At the time the investigative body is appointed, the Dean shall inform in writing the individual(s) about whom allegations have been made and any involved collaborators that an investigation is to be conducted and shall present to them a statement of the allegations. This statement shall include information on the nature of the allegations and the focus of the investigation, and shall inform those being investigated of the opportunity to defend their conduct and provide comments and other relevant information to the investigative body. The same individuals shall be informed of their right to passive assistance of their own attorney in preparing and/or giving their response in this and all subsequent phases of the investigation.
- The Dean shall inform the College's Legal Counsel and the Chairman of the Department of each individual under investigation that an investigation is underway. The Dean, with the assistance of the Director of the Office of Research & Grants Administration, also shall inform the agency sponsoring the research if such action is required by the agency.
- The investigative body shall conduct a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if the allegations of misconduct are valid. The investigative body shall use advice of the College's Legal Counsel on procedures and other matters pertaining to the investigation. The investigative body may call witnesses, examine research data (both published and unpublished), and seek expert counsel both inside and outside the College to aid in the scientific audit.
- The investigative body shall attempt to complete its investigation within 120 days from the appointment of the investigative body. All parties involved in the investigation shall strive to maintain confidentiality of information.
- Interim administrative actions, as appropriate to the allegations, may be taken prior to the completion of the investigation if such actions are necessary to protect the welfare of human or animal subjects of research or to prevent the inappropriate use of funds or to protect the welfare of the College.
- Having completed its investigation, the investigative body shall submit its findings and recommendations in writing to the Dean.
If the investigative body's findings fail to confirm an instance of misconduct, all participants in the investigation, the Provost, and the Director of the Office of Research & Grants Administration shall be so informed by the Dean.
If the investigative body has reason to believe that unfounded charges may have been brought with malicious or dishonest intent, the investigative body should recommend consideration of appropriate administrative action.
If the investigative body finds that the allegations are substantiated and that misconduct has occurred, the following actions shall be taken by the Dean after consultation with the Provost:
- The agency sponsoring the research shall be informed of the findings of the investigation;
- Publishers and editors of journals shall be informed if manuscripts emanating from fraudulent research have been submitted or published; and
- Disciplinary actions taken as a result of a finding that scientific misconduct has occurred must be consistent with appointment and tenure policies for faculty and with disciplinary policies for students and staff.
The disposition of an allegation of scientific misconduct may be appealed to the President, whose decision shall be final.