The Swedish government established a national Research Misconduct Board in 2020, after concluding institutions couldn’t be trusted to investigate allegations of serious research misconduct themselves. This followed botched investigations into the conduct of surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who transplanted experimental artificial tracheas into 20 patients, 17 of whom later died. His employer, the Karolinska Institute, had initially cleared him. Later independent investigations found he had committed misconduct.
Australia desperately needs such a body. The current system of institutions internally investigating allegations of misconduct by their own researchers then deciding what to publish about an investigation and then how long the report will be available to the public is utterly useless. We need a change! Institutions have an intolerable conflict of interest where concerns about reputation, politics and funding take precedence over the integrity of science, transparency and using the handling of cases to inform national best practice. The AHRECS team have recently observed poor institutional behaviour. We suggest funding bodies face their own political and reputational problems. We have included links to 15 related items.
Sweden is just the most recent of more than 20 European nations that have national offices for research integrity. So do the UK, US, Canada, Japan and China. Australia, which still lacks an Office for Research Integrity, is being left behind.
Multiple recent reports of allegations of research fraud in Australia show the urgent need for an independent national regulator.
How does Australia handle research misconduct?
Australia’s system for handling allegations of research misconduct resembles the one Sweden abandoned. We persist with a self-regulation model. Yet royal commission after royal commission has shown self-regulation does not work in the financial sector, with institutions that care for children, or for police forces.
Research in Australia funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) or the Australian Research Council (ARC) must comply with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.