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THE RESEARCH MISCONDUCT STUDY[index]

The data for the research misconduct study published in American Scientist[7] is based on a survey of 2,000 graduate students in chemistry, microbiology, civil engineering and social science and 2,000 of their faculty at 99 departments. These scientists and engineers were asked about their experiences with 15 different instances of unprofessional behavior. All respondents were guaranteed anonymity. The article states that the responses suggest that without that guarantee, "...it is likely that a significant number would have remained silent about their perceptions of misconduct."

The definition of "misconduct in science" adopted by the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Science and Engineering Public Policy (COSEPUP) is "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, in proposing, performing, or reporting research" whether intentional or otherwise. The committee felt that these three "cardinal sins" comprise the crux of misconduct in science and even anointed them with their own abbreviation: FFP. COSEPUP recognizes two additional categories of behavior "to delineate ... behaviors in the research environment that require attention." One such category is "questionable research practices" which include dishonest and/or sloppy research practices such as sharing authorship of articles with noncontributing colleagues, accepting honorary authorship of articles, using facilities for private gain or keeping poor research records. The committee recognized that such behavior violates traditional values of research and may be detrimental to research, but admits that researchers do not agree about what behavior standards should apply or even how serious such practices are. The other category of behavior recognized by COSEPUP is "other misconduct," which includes sexual harassment, rape, embezzlement, murder, extortion, arson, theft, and violations of government regulations which may take place in a research environment but "are clearly not unique to the conduct of science ... [and] are subject to generally applicable legal and social penalties."

The Swazey study used the Academy's three categories to generate question categories for its survey. The first two questions examined knowledge of plagiarism and falsifying data. According to the results, about 20 percent of civil engineering faculty reported direct knowledge of faculty plagiarism and about 10 percent reported direct knowledge of faculty who falsified research data.

The next series of questions examined questionable research practices. The answers indicate that direct knowledge of such practices is even greater than knowledge of plagiarism or falsifying data. According to these results, over 60 percent of civil engineering faculty say they know of peers who make inappropriate use of university resources for personal purposes and/or profit, almost half know of inappropriate assignment of authorship of research papers, over 20 percent report instances where the sloppy use of data was overlooked by colleagues, and about 15 percent know of instances where data that would contradict a researcher's own previous work was not disclosed.

Increased misconduct is not surprising in areas where, according to the Academy, there is "neither broad agreement about seriousness ... nor any consensus on standards for behavior in such matters." The moral vacuum of "questionable activities" invites misconduct.

The last series of questions examined knowledge of what the Academy refers to as "other misconduct." The answers indicated that direct knowledge of such misconduct is also common. According to these results, over half of civil engineering faculty have direct knowledge of faculty exploiting other faculty and students, over a third have such knowledge of faculty misuse of research funds and the same number have direct knowledge of discrimination against students based on race, ethnicity or gender, about 15 percent have direct knowledge of sexual harassment of other faculty and students by faculty, and over 10 percent have such knowledge of faculty who fail to disclose commercial involvement relating to one's own research. Amongst microbiology faculty, where policies on animal care, protection of human subjects, biosafety, etc. are of great importance, about a third of the faculty has direct knowledge of faculty who ignore university research policies in these and other areas.

There is no moral vacuum surrounding these activities. The widespread misconduct and unlawful behavior reported suggests that there are numerous desperados on university faculties, and they are not necessarily the individuals being convicted by ORI.

The authors of the Swazey study conclude, "Our survey data, and statements by faculty and graduate students whom we interviewed, challenge the idea that faculty actually practice an ethic of collective governance."

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