Research misconduct: Easy to observe hard to put in a policy

There is rumbling among researchers as peak bodies struggle to define misconduct.

Mid-year research experts working on an update to the 2007 responsible conduct of research code, decided defining misconduct was too hard. ““The decision to not include a definition of research misconduct was based on the fact that there is no internationally agreed definition of research misconduct, and that the definition in the current code has been problematic in its application to an investigation outcome and findings, particularly in relation to enterprise agreements and current approaches to the management of behaviours that may require corrective action,” a team under the auspices of the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and Universities Australia concluded (CMM June 19).

This did not go down well with some researchers – but “misconduct” is still not dealt with to universal satisfaction. And the proposed code gives the NHMRC and ARC an out by making meeting enforcing it mandatory for funding.

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has responded with a new submission addressing the issue.

“Allowing research organisations to determine whether they decide to use the term research misconduct within their own framework is problematic. It will lead to some research organisations using the term, while others might drop it entirely. The result of this will be that similar types of breaches of the code will be defined as research misconduct by some research organisations, whereas other research organisations will make no such finding and instead just refer to a breach of the code. It would be better for the application of the code to be universal, and in the interests of fairness and transparency it is not reasonable to put in place a code that can lead to different outcomes at different research organisations.”

There seems no way around this, as AAMRI argues, “there should be a single definition of “research misconduct” so that all serious or repeated breaches of the code are referred to as acts of research misconduct.”


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