Science and technology policy

Research integrity: preventing misconduct and dealing with allegations


Misconduct in research (for example, fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism) damages the scientific enterprise, is a misuse of public funds, and undermines the trust of citizens in science.  Recognising that the issue affects all of these stakeholder communities and that, like science itself, the problem has a major international dimension, the OECD Global Science Forum sponsored an international consultation of government-designated officials and experts.  On February 22-23, 2007, in Tokyo, the Global Science Forum and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (MEXT) held the Workshop on Best Practices for Ensuring Scientific Integrity and Preventing Misconduct. 

The goal of the OECD Workshop was to deepen the understanding of the underlying phenomena, to identify the range of possible solutions and, based on experience, to enumerate the pros and cons of various practical measures, lessons learned and good practices.  The consensus report on Best Practices for Ensuring Scientific Integrity and Preventing Misconduct, produced following the workshop, constitutes a reference document on this topic. Its main focus is on the practical and administrative dimensions of dealing with allegations of misconduct.  A number of countries are currently creating, modifying, or reviewing their administrative mechanisms for dealing with such allegations.  For these countries, the Global Science Forum report should be particularly timely, by providing an opportunity for international consultation, and for learning from the experiences of others.

The conclusions of the report were presented at the first World Conference on Research Integrity in Lisbon in September 2007, and has since served as a reference for a number of analyses and recommendations (such as those by the European Science Foundation).

During this work on research integrity, a particular issue was identified as requiring additional investigation: how to deal with misconduct allegations in the context of international research collaborations. To tackle this issue, a special Co-ordinating Committee of international experts was created. The Committee held three meetings: in Washington, D.C. (3-4 December 2007), Paris (21-22 April 2008) and Vienna (11-12 September 2008).  The focus of the Committee was to produce practical recommendations and tools to help in the investigation of possible cases of research misconduct in international research collaborations.  While a harmonisation of national procedures on research misconduct investigations could be useful, the committee agreed that such a goal was highly unlikely to be achieved, and could even be undesirable, due to the diversity of national research systems.  A main objective was rather the definition of core principles directly related to international research misconduct investigations, as well as the promotion of increased international awareness on this issue and of networking among experts and institutions.

In its final report, the Committee included a Practical Guide (available as a standalone document) composed of a short “Boilerplate” text, which could be inserted into any agreement for a specific international collaboration, as well as a fundamental set of principles, guidelines and suggested procedures for conducting international research misconduct investigations, which could be adopted by those putting together international research projects.