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ResourcesResearch IntegrityInstitutional Research Misconduct Reports Need More Credibility (Papers: C.K. Gunsalus, JD, et al | 2018)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Institutional Research Misconduct Reports Need More Credibility (Papers: C.K. Gunsalus, JD, et al | 2018)


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Institutions have a central role in protecting the integrity of research. They employ researchers, own the facilities where the work is conducted, receive grant funding, and teach many students about the research process. When questions arise about research misconduct associated with published articles, scientists and journal editors usually first ask the researchers’ institution to investigate the allegations and then report the outcomes, under defined circumstances, to federal oversight agencies and other entities, including journals.1

Depending on institutions to investigate their own faculty presents significant challenges. Misconduct reports, the mandated product of institutional investigations for which US federal dollars have been spent, have a wide range of problems. These include lack of standardization, inherent conflicts of interest that must be addressed to directly ensure credibility, little quality control or peer review, and limited oversight. Even when institutions act, the information they release to the public is often limited and unhelpful.

This short but punchy piece articulates a useful quality standard for institutions when they report research misconduct.

As a result, like most elements of research misconduct, little is known about institutions’ responses to potential misconduct by their own members. The community that relies on the integrity of university research does not have access to information about how often such claims arise, or how they are resolved. Nonetheless, there are some indications that many internal reviews are deficient.
Three recent reports from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) underscore this phenomenon. In 2016, the Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century panel concluded that “Some academic research institutions have failed to respond appropriately to investigators’ transgressions or failed to use effectively the range of tools available to create an environment that strongly discourages, at both the institutional and the individual level, behaviors in conflict with the standards and norms of the scientific community.”2 In 2017, the Committee on Responsible Science noted that “significant gaps exist in the information available to institutions as well as to the rest of the research enterprise about how allegations are handled, what challenges arise, and how successful institutions are able to ensure effective performance.” 3 A third NASEM group, the Committee on the Review of Omics-Based Tests for Predicting Patient Outcomes in Clinical Trials, reported in 2012 that “institutions can be influenced by secondary interest beyond financial interests, such as factors that impact an institution’s reputation. In research, such reputational factors can be quite prominent and difficult to manage, including deference to esteemed and well funded investigators and the importance to both investigators and institutions of faculty publications in high-impact journals.”4

Gunsalus CK, Marcus AR, Oransky I. (2018) Institutional Research Misconduct Reports Need More Credibility. JAMA. 2018;319(13):1315–1316. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0358

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