Do you suspect research misconduct? 

Don’t tackle the problem alone – seek support from a research integrity adviser or your own association.

Text Terhi Hautamäki Image istockphoto

What is research misconduct? 

Research misconduct includes plagiarism, theft of intellectual property, forgery, and distortion of research results. The Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) principles are also violated by a wide range of negligence.

In the 2019 Barometer of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity (TENK), up to half of the respondents were concerned about the threat of results being published selectively due to funder interference. There are also ambiguities related to authorship; for example, students or junior researchers may be excluded from the list of study authors, or the publication may be co-authored by a researcher who has not participated in the research.

Most important in all projects is to discuss the rules of the game in advance. 

Most important in all projects is to discuss the rules of the game in advance. 

How common is research misconduct? 

Research misconduct cases surface very rarely in Finland. For example, the FUURT office receives about a dozen contacts a year regarding suspected research ethics violations.

Some cheats go unreported. Some members have said they don’t dare make a report because of a subordinate relationship or due to financial matters. Even if you don’t want to be branded as a troublemaker, it’s important to the entire university community that problems are exposed. 

Where can I get more information? 

It is worth reading the RCR principles for responsible research conduct, which can be found on TENK’s website in Finnish, Swedish and English. Finnish universities have research integrity advisers trained by TENK. If you notice concerning or deceptive conduct or other violations of research ethics, or if you suspect that you have been targeted or have been accused yourself, talk to an adviser. You can also contact your trade union. 

Suspicion of breach of responsible research conduct should be reported to the university.

Suspicion of breach of responsible research conduct should be reported to the university. The reporting form is available from the university or on TENK’s website. Your union can help if needed.

Once the report has been made, the university will investigate; it will request responses and consult the parties involved in accordance with RCR guidelines. 

What are the potential consequences of research misconduct? 

It is serious matter for a researcher to be suspected of violating the RCR. If the accusations are found to be legitimate, the employer may issue sanctions, a reprimand or a warning, but above all it is a matter of academic reputation. The process, with its investigations and appeal times, may last a couple of years. Whatever your role, you should not be left to go it alone. 

Salla Viitanen, a Union Lawyer for FUURT, answered the questions.

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