Investigation of Allegations of Research Misconduct Guidelines

Document Number000872
Date Approved3 December 2008
Date Last Amended21 February 2012


1.      Context

These Guidelines provide a framework for responding to suspected breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and to allegations of research misconduct.

The Guidelines are based on the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, and the University’s Responsible Conduct of Research Policy, Honorary Appointments Policy and Workplace Agreements and should be read in conjunction with those documents.

2.      Scope

These Guidelines apply to the research practices (excluding those relating to their research higher degree candidature) of:

  1. academic, teaching and professional staff: and
  2. those with an honorary academic title conferred by the University through the Honorary Appointments Policy.

Matters relating to the research higher degree candidature of University staff or holders of an honorary academic title, fall outside this policy and should be resolved through the provisions of the Student Academic Integrity Policy.

Misconduct which is unrelated to research activities is not research misconduct and therefore falls outside the scope of these Guidelines.

3.      Intent

These Guidelines provide mechanisms for identifying and responding to suspected breaches of the Code and to perceptions of research misconduct. They provide:

  1. a single point of entry for formal allegations;
  2. mechanisms for assessing and investigating allegations; and
  3. an approved pathway for managing and resolving allegations.

These Guidelines seek to ensure that where research misconduct is identified it is addressed promptly and effectively; that the affected parties are treated fairly, and that steps are taken to maintain public confidence in the University’s research endeavours.

4.      Definitions:

In the context of these Guidelines:

Adviser in Research Integrity means an Assistant Dean (Research) who is deputed to provide advice on research integrity to staff;

breach means a less serious deviation from the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research; a breach may be characterised as lacking both intent and significant consequences.

Note: repeated or continuing breaches of the Code are considered to be research misconduct/serious misconduct (as defined below) if they have been the subject of previous counselling or specific direction.

A breach of the Code is normally considered to be misconduct as defined by the  applicable workplace agreement;

Code means the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research;

Designated Officer is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) who is designated to deal with allegations of a breach of the Code or research misconduct/serious misconduct;

Designated Person is the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) who is designated to advise the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) on:

  1. whether allegations of a breach of the Code or research misconduct/serious misconduct appear to be justified; and
  2. whether a prima facie case exists.

head of research area means the person responsible for the direction of research activities in a particular location (e.g. Faculty, School, Centre, Institute or Research Group).

research means original scholarly investigation undertaken to gain knowledge, understanding and insight. Research is “that which includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction”[1];

 

research misconduct means serious or deliberate deviations from the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research; research misconduct involves;

  1. intent or deliberation;
  2. recklessness or gross and/or persistent negligence;
  3. the failure to follow approved protocols;
  4. the undertaking of research without approvals or clearances such as ethics and safety; and
  5. serious offences such as the placement of false information on the public record.

Research misconduct is considered to be serious misconduct as defined by the  applicable workplace agreement;

researcher means anyone subject to a University of Newcastle Workplace Agreement or the Honorary Appointments Policy undertaking, piloting or supporting research in association or affiliation with the University of Newcastle;

scholarship means the creation, development and maintenance of the intellectual infrastructure of subjects and disciplines, in forms such as dictionaries, scholarly editions, catalogues and contributions to major research data bases.”[2]

 

5.      Deviations from the Provisions of the Code.

  1.   These include but are not limited to:
  • fabrication of results
  • falsification or misrepresentation of results
  • plagiarism
  • misleading ascription of authorship
  • failure to declare and manage serious conflicts of interest
  • falsification or misrepresentation to obtain funding
  • conducting research without ethics approval as required by the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans and the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes
  • failure to declare or adequately manage risk to the safety of human participants, or the wellbeing of animals or the environment.
  • deviations from the Code that occur through gross or persistent negligence
  • wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct/serious misconduct by others.


[1] RAE (2005) RAE 2008 Research Assessment Exercise Guidance on Submissions, RAE 03/2005

[2] RAE 2005 op cit

6.      Identifying Deviations from the Code

  1. When an individual has concerns about possible deviations from the Code, the supervisor or head of a research area should be the first point of contact.
  2. In cases where the concern relates to the ethical conduct of research, individuals should refer their concerns to the chair of the Human Research Ethics Committee or the Animal Care and Ethics Committee.
  3. Where an individual feels unable to raise the matter at the local level – for example when the issue concerns their supervisor or the head of the research area – they should seek the advice of an advisor in research integrity or a senior officer of the University.
  4. An advisor in research integrity can provide advice to a staff member who is unsure about a research conduct issue and may be considering whether to make an allegation.  Note the advisor’s role does not extend to assessment or investigation of the allegation.  Moreover, the advisor must not make contact with a person who is the subject of a formal allegation, and must not be involved in any subsequent inquiry.
  5. The advisor in research integrity will explain the options open to a person considering making an allegation. These options include:
    1. referring the matter directly to the person of concern;
    2. not proceeding with a formal allegation if discussion resolves the concerns;
    3. referring the concerns to a person in a supervisory capacity for resolution at a local level; or
    4. making a formal allegation in writing to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research).
  6. In determining or taking action, the following principles must be considered;
    1. Breaches of the Code may occur through inexperience, honest error in the design or execution of research, or the interpretation of research results. Provided:
      1. the alleged breaches do not constitute research misconduct/serious misconduct;
      2. the researcher acknowledges the breach;
      3. the consequences of the breach are remedied; and
      4. steps are taken to prevent recurrence, the matter should rest at a local level.
    2. All alleged breaches, even those which are technical or minor, should be handled fairly and in a manner that provides the maximum opportunity for improvement. Full records of the process must be kept and the supervisor and head of a research area must comply with University policy.  Allegations of a minor nature that are contested can become major issues if they are not handled effectively, and failure by a supervisor or head of a research area to address issues properly may in itself represent research misconduct/serious misconduct.
    3. The Code requires institutions to establish an independent external inquiry to evaluate allegations of research misconduct/serious misconduct that are contested.  Anyone forming a suspicion that research misconduct/serious misconduct has occurred is therefore required to inform the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) in writing.

7.      Framework for the Resolution of Formal  Allegations

7.1.     Preliminary Assessment

  1. An individual reporting a breach of the Code or research misconduct/serious misconduct should forward a written allegation to the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research).  The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) will conduct a preliminary assessment and will advise the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) of the outcome of the preliminary assessment.
  2. The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) must maintain full records of all matters that relate to allegations of research misconduct/serious misconduct.
  3. When undertaking a preliminary assessment of an allegation, the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) should take the following steps:
    1. Identify the issues of concern.  These may be contained in the allegation or may come to their attention during the course of the assessment.  The person making the allegation will usually be interviewed at this stage, however the person who is the subject of the allegation is not necessarily informed of the content of the allegation at this stage as not all of the issues may have been identified.
    2. Determine if allegations not related to research should be referred for resolution through alternative mechanisms outside the scope of these Guidelines.
    3. Attempt to ensure that arrangements in the local workplace are fair to all parties until an allegation is resolved.
    4. Take into account legislative requirements, the requirements of the Code and the University’s guidelines, policies, procedures and workplace agreements.
    5. Collect, record and store documentary evidence such as files, computer files, memos, letters, e-mails, photography etc 
      Note:   The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) has the authority to secure all documents and evidence necessary to undertake the preliminary assessment of an allegation.
    6. Obtain witness' versions of events and seek written signed statements from key witnesses.  Advice on the format and content of a formal witness statement is provided in the University of Newcastle Guide to Conducting Investigations.
    7. A person who is the subject of an allegation may be interviewed and their response documented or a statement obtained from them. The respondent may be accompanied during an interview by a support person as defined by the applicable workplace agreement, however the support person must not disrupt the interview.
  4. All allegations must be addressed in accordance with these Guidelines and a person who is the subject of an allegation must be treated fairly and provided with an opportunity to respond to an allegation in writing.
  5. A person who makes an allegation must also be treated fairly in accordance with the Internal Reporting Policy during and subsequent to a preliminary assessment or investigation.
  6. On completion of the preliminary assessment the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) will advise the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and make recommendations on whether the allegations should be:

    1. dismissed;
    2. dealt with under alternative provisions unrelated to research;
    3. referred back to the local level with instructions as to how they are to be handled (e.g. guidance, counselling, staff development or work allocation); or
    4. investigated by referral to an internal or external inquiry.
  7. If the advice is to investigate the matter, the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) should also advise how the inquiry should be constituted.
  8. After providing advice to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) should play no further role in the matter other than being called to give evidence or expert opinion where necessary.

7.2     Investigation

  1. If, on considering advice from the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) believes an allegation warrants investigation, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will institute action in accordance with the applicable workplace agreement.
  2. At this stage, in the event of an admission of research misconduct/serious misconduct, an issue may be resolved through the provisions of the applicable workplace agreement or the Honorary Appointments Policy.
  3. Should the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) initiate an investigation a decision will be made regarding the use of an internal Committee of Inquiry or an independent external inquiry.  The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research), those making an allegation, the person who is the subject of an allegation and any other parties as required under any agreement, such as funding bodies and collaborating institutions will be advised in writing by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) regarding the preferred course of action.
  4. In determining the preferred course of action the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will take into account the potential consequences for the accused, the accuser, other parties and institutions in the event that an allegation is upheld, and the need to maintain public confidence in research.

7.3   Procedural fairness

  1. When an inquiry is established to investigate matters that may lead to disciplinary action, the person who is the subject of the inquiry must be granted a fair hearing under the legal principle of procedural fairness, also known as ‘natural justice’.
  2. To ensure procedural fairness, the following must apply:
     
    1. the allegations must be stated clearly in writing;
    2. the person facing the allegations must be given the opportunity to be heard and to be accompanied by a support person during any interview;
    3. the members of the committee must be free from bias or preconception and must conduct themselves in a manner demonstrating this; and
    4. the principles of confidentiality must be maintained.
  3. The committee must provide its findings, and the reasons for those findings, in writing in accordance with the applicable workplace agreement.

7.4     Internal Committee of Inquiry

  1. An internal Committee of Inquiry would normally be established to investigate allegations relating to a breach of the Code defined as misconduct in the applicable workplace agreement.
  2. An internal Committee of Inquiry will be established by appointing suitable members, including at least one member with knowledge and experience in an associated field of research and at least one member who is familiar with the responsible conduct of research.  At least one member should have experience on similar panels or have related experience or expertise and all members must be free from bias and conflict of interest.
  3. The respondent to an allegation may be accompanied during any interview by a support person as defined by the applicable workplace agreement, however the support person must not obstruct the business of the inquiry or disrupt an interview (Legal representation of parties should not be permitted).
  4. The Committee of Inquiry must abide by confidentiality requirements and must impress upon all witnesses their obligation to keep details of the investigation confidential.
  5. The Committee of Inquiry will report its findings to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and what, if any, breach of the Code or research misconduct/serious misconduct has occurred.
  6. Where adverse findings have been made, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will decide what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken in accordance with the provisions of the applicable workplace agreement.  In the case of an honorary appointment, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will decide what course of action will be taken.
  7. The consideration of a matter by an internal Committee of Inquiry does not preclude a matter being subsequently referred to an independent external inquiry.
  8. Having considered the Committee of Inquiry report any determination by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will be final in accordance with the applicable workplace agreement.

7.5     Independent  External Inquiry

  1. Allegations relating to research misconduct/serious misconduct will normally be referred to an independent external inquiry consistent with the provisions of the applicable workplace agreement.
  2. Members appointed to an independent external inquiry must not:
    1. be employees of the University;
    2. have current or recent dealings with the University; or
    3. otherwise be subject to a reasonable perception of bias.
      The panel should normally consist of at least three members.
  3. At least one member should be legally qualified or have extensive experience as a member of a tribunal or similar body. At least one member should have knowledge and research experience in a related field of research, but not directly in the research area of the allegations.
  4. Procedural fairness demands that the person subject to the inquiry be able to hear and respond to any and all material to be used by the panel in its decision-making process.
  5. It is preferable that any expert knowledge that may be required is provided to the inquiry by witnesses rather than members of the panel. This allows witnesses to be questioned by both the panel and the person subject to the inquiry. In the event that a panel member has expert knowledge the person subject to the enquiry should be advised accordingly.
  6. To be consistent with the general practice of tribunals, the following standard practices should be implemented:

    1. The panel should normally be assisted by a legally qualified person acting as ‘counsel assisting’, whose role it is to prepare the material to be put to the tribunal and to examine (question) witnesses on behalf of the panel. This person is not a member of the inquiry panel but may provide the panel with legal advice during the hearing.
    2. The person facing the allegations should be entitled to legal representation.
    3. The inquiry is not bound by the rules of evidence but its procedures must be consistent with the principles of natural justice and due process.
  7. In making findings, the inquiry should apply the civil standard of proof, although the standard of proof in serious cases will be higher than the mere balance of probabilities.
  8. Whether an independent external inquiry is open to the public or conducted in private should be determined by the panel itself on the basis of public interest. The panel has the responsibility to hear the views of all parties on a matter before such a decision is made. However the findings of an independent external inquiry should be made available to the public following consultation with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research).
  9. The inquiry panel must abide by confidentiality requirements and must impress upon all witnesses their obligation to keep details of the investigation confidential.  This may require some parts of an inquiry that is open to the public to be conducted in private.
  10. Upon completion of its tasks, the independent external inquiry must advise the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) of its findings, and what, if any, research misconduct/serious misconduct has occurred.
  11. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) must, in due course, inform the Vice-Chancellor and Council of the outcome of the inquiry.  As proven research misconduct/serious misconduct may warrant disciplinary action the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will decide what disciplinary actions should be taken in accordance with the provisions of the applicable workplace agreement.  In the case of an honorary appointment, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will decide what course of action will be taken.
  12. Having considered the independent external inquiry report any determination by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will be final in accordance with the applicable workplace agreement.
  13. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) will inform all relevant parties of the inquiry’s findings and the actions taken by the University. Relevant parties may include affected staff, research collaborators including those at other institutions, funding organisations, journal editors, and professional registration bodies. The public record, including publications, may need to be corrected if research misconduct/serious misconduct has affected the research findings and their dissemination.
  14. If the allegations are shown to be unfounded, the institution will make every effort to reinstate the good reputation of the accused researcher and their associates.
  15. Persons making complaints found to be vexatious and without substance may be subject to the disciplinary provisions of the applicable workplace agreement.

7.6    Timeframes

  1. An investigation will require a combination of thoroughness and immediacy.
  2. While investigation timeframes should not be strict, it is important to keep time frames within reasonable expectations.
  3. A Committee of Inquiry will report to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and the staff member who is the focus of the inquiry within 10 working days of the conclusion of proceedings in accordance with the applicable workplace agreement.

8.      Essential Supporting Documents

Academic Staff Workplace Agreement 2006

Teachers Workplace Agreement 2006

General Staff Workplace Agreement 2006

Honorary Appointments Policy 000408

Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research

Responsible Conduct of Research Policy

Internal Reporting Policy 000618

9.      Related Documents

New South Wales Protected Disclosures Act 1994

National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans

Australian Code of Practice for the Care Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes

University of Newcastle, Guide to Conducting Investigations

Student Academic Integrity Policy 000608

New South Wales Protected Disclosures Act 1994

 

Approval AuthorityAcademic Senate
Date Approved3 December 2008
Date Last Amended21 February 2012
Date for Review3 December 2011
Policy SponsorDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Policy OwnerPro Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Policy ContactExecutive Officer, Graduate Studies
Amendment History

Change in terminology from "general" to "professional" staff, approved by the Vice-Chancellor 21 February 2012, effective 1 January 2012.