Fraud in research undermines the scientific enterprise in ways that go far beyond the waste of public funds. Although an uncommon event relative to the large scientific literature, violations of accepted standards inevitably appear in this as in all human pursuits. Institutions engaged in research have a major responsibility not only to provide an environment that promotes integrity, but also to establish and enforce policies and procedures that deal effectively and expeditiously with allegations or evidence of fraud.

In dealing with this problem it is important not to create an atmosphere that might discourage openness and creativity. Good and innovative science cannot flourish in an atmosphere of oppressive regulation. Moreover, it is particularly important to distinguish fraud from the honest error and the ambiguities of interpretation that are inherent in the scientific process and are normally corrected by further research.

Many institutions have adopted and published policies to deal with these problems. The primary goal of this document is to assist institutions as they refine such policies or as they move to adopt new ones designed to assure careful and thorough handling of allegations of fraud. It expands upon the guidelines presented in two 1982 publications: "The Maintenance of High Ethical Standards in the Conduct of Research," by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and the "Report of the Association of American Universities Committee on the Integrity of Research," by the Association of American Universities (AAU).

This document also has taken into consideration the 1986 Public Health Service (PHS) guidelines, "Policies and Procedures for Dealing with Possible Misconduct in Science," and the 1987 regulations issued by the National Science Foundation (NSF), "Misconduct in Science and Engineering Research." The PHS guidelines and NSF regulations describe those agencies' preferred procedures for the institutional handling of allegations of research fraud. Those procedures normally have four stages:

  1. An inquiry to determine whether the allegation or related issues warrant further investigation,

  2. When warranted, an investigation to collect and thoroughly examine evidence,

  3. A formal finding, and

  4. Appropriate disposition of the matter.

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