Research integrity: a suspicion of violation– what to do?

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In most cases, we can determine research behaviour to be good or bad, quite easily. This is a lot less clear for behaviour that doesn’t live up to the standards in research but that is not seen as blunt fraud, the so called "other unacceptable practices" (OUP). ALLEA gives a list of examples of UOP but this is (off course) non-exhaustive. More broadly, failure to respect good research practices as well as failure to follow the fundamental principles (values) of research integrity (reliability, honesty, respect, accountability) as described in the ALLEA Code is also considered to be unacceptable.
Looking at research behaviour more critically, that of yourself or of a fellow researcher, chances exist you will be faced with questions or doubts on how to act.

Some tips that can help you decide:


Is it really fraud or a violation of research integrity?

  • Consult the European Code for Research Integrity (ALLEA-code).
  • Talk to colleagues or executives (supervisor, head of department, PI, dean, ...) to find out which research behaviour is most appropriate/approved within your discipline. Always do this within an open, non-threatening communication. Attention: always remain critical. Habitual behaviour is not necessarily the same as good scientific practice.
  • Benchmark; how does one deal with (certain aspects of) integrity issues in other universities or research groups. Don't hesitate to address your (inter)national network.
  • A clear standpoint provides support to researchers in doubt: make 'good research practices' clear as a research group, as a faculty.
  • Never remain stuck with a suspicion or question. Contact the secretary of the Commission for Research Integrity


Can I raise the issue?

In some cases, it is desirable or possible to raise the issue with the person directly involved (the one doing it). It is important that you proceed with caution, paying sufficient attention to the sensitivity of the topic. Describe the situation as clearly as possible and prepare the conversation well.

Rather than taking this action alone, it may therefore be wise to first assess your suspicions confidentially to a reliable third party. Make this a well-considered choice (head of department, faculty ombudsperson, …). You can let yourself be assisted by the third party or a person of your own choice when addressing the situation. For some people, this approach may seem accusatory. So ask the secretary of the Commission for Research Integrity for advice beforehand: based on relevant expertise, they can give you useful tips and support further action.


Is your suspicion sufficiently well-founded?

You can’t express suspicions just like that. There is always a chance that you damage someone or someone’s career unjust. This goes in both directions: an unjust accusation can possibly also damage yourself and your career. In advance, it is often very difficult to make an assessment of the risks and consequences that follow filing a complaint. Therefore, make sure that:

  • the report is accompanied by the necessary evidence. A well-founded complaint consists of a thorough explanation of the facts, preferably built up chronologically and supported by evidence.
  • this evidence can take many forms; from original datasets, to email correspondence, notes and memoranda, images, statements from colleagues involved, etc. It is always important to keep the evidence in mind and to specify what you are accusing the person of and how this shows up in the evidence.

If you have any questions about this, do not hesitate to contact the secretary of the Commission for Research Integrity.


Need extra support?

The Procedural code for inquiries into breaches of research integrity  sees to it that complaints can be made anonymous to the person involved (the person you lodge a complaint against). Only the chair, secretary, and (vice)rector are aware of your identity but are at the same time bound by the confidentiality rules as stated in the regulations.

Regulations on whistle-blowing at Ghent University can offer extra protection in case staff members want to make irregularities public (in format).

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Last modified Nov. 30, 2022, 3:01 p.m.