The newly formed government organization tackled 46 research-fraud investigations in 2020 — three times as many as expected.
Scientists have inundated Sweden’s new national research-misconduct investigation agency with cases, and there is no sign of a let-up in referrals.
This story highlights something that we have often noted in our consulting practice. It is impossible to know how many research integrity problems an organisation or entity has until you have a robust and trusted mechanism by which researchers can register concerns or complaints. We suggest Sweden doesn’t suddenly have a surge of alleged research misconduct, it’s just people enthusiastically seizing upon the new mechanism. The problem was probably always there, it was just festering invisibly.
In most countries, universities and research institutions deal with misconduct allegations in-house, which can lead to some cases not being handled fairly or transparently. Sweden followed Denmark — the first country in the world to set up such an agency, in 2017 — in a bid to shake up research-fraud probes.
Experts had warned that the nascent agency could be overwhelmed, and say that the high number of cases could be down to researchers feeling more comfortable about reporting suspicions to an independent agency than to their own institutions, as they did under the previous system.
So far, investigations into 25 of the 46 cases have concluded, with 11 judged to be outside the agency’s remit, 10 researchers acquitted and 4 researchers found guilty of misconduct. Last month, the researcher at the centre of the agency’s first guilty verdict won her court appeal against the decision.