Back to home page          Back to notes for researchers




Downloaded from the EPSRC site.




1. Introduction


2. Essential Steps in Handling Allegations of Scientific Misconduct


3. Integrity and Self-Regulation in Science


 Principles of Good Scientific Practice


 Implementation of the Principles within Institutions


 Leadership and Organisation


 Education of Young Researchers


 Independent Adjudication  within Institutions


 The Central Role of Data


 Allegations of Scientific Misconduct


 Integrity in Submitting Proposals for Research Council Support


 Use of Funds Granted by Research Councils


 Conduct of Referees and Panel Members




4. References and Acknowledgements


5. Enquiries


1. Introduction


1.1 Progress in scientific and engineering research depends on the honest reporting of genuine results. In recent years a number of serious instances of fraud or of other scientific misconduct have persuaded funding bodies around the world to consider their regulations and guidance in this area.


1.2 In the UK, the Director General of the Research Councils and Chief Executives of the Research Councils have recently issued some recommendations for the self-regulation of scientific and engineering research. The recommendations are intended as a kind of "highway code" for the research community as a whole, including the bodies actually funding scientific research. The recommendations draw substantially on a set produced by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in Germany following a serious and long-standing case of scientific fraud.


1.3 The overall recommendations issued in the UK consist of an umbrella document within which each Research Council may wish to issue further guidance appropriate to its circumstances. This booklet sets out the way in which EPSRC expects the recommendations to be applied.


1.4 EPSRC differs from some of the other UK Research Councils in that it does not employ scientists and engineers carrying out research in its own Laboratories or Institutes. All of the Council’s support is channelled through other institutions, mainly Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), which act as the employer of staff funded by the Council. However, the Council requires that, as a condition of its funding, HEIs (and other recipients of EPSRC support) have in place sound measures for avoiding scientific misconduct and for handling it should it occur. This forms a key element in the EPSRC’s relationship with HEIs and the Council may impose appropriate sanctions if the understandings implicit in that relationship are breached.


1.5 Scientific misconduct is often easier to recognise than to define, but two broad categories can be distinguished. The first involves fabrication or falsification of research results; the second arises where there is plagiarism, misquoting or misappropriation of the work of others. It also includes, for example, the unethical use of material provided in a privileged way for review or assessment.


1.6 In what follows we set out what EPSRC expects of institutions in receipt of its funds. Before doing this, however, we set out some guidelines on the procedures institutions should have in place for handling cases of scientific misconduct. These draw substantially on guidelines issued by MRC for staff employed in its own Laboratories and Institutes.


2. Essential Steps In Handling Allegations Of Scientific Misconduct


2.1 The main requirement is that institutions have a procedure which is written, agreed, disseminated and clearly understood by all those who may be involved. It should be seen to be fair to both the complainant (the person(s) responsible for making an allegation of misconduct), if one exists, and the respondent against whom the complaint is being made. Complainants can be put under extreme pressure and scientific misconduct will only be revealed if they can expect reasonable protection. Equally, some complaints may be malicious and the respondent should expect a just decision following a fair and speedy process. The procedure should indicate the sanctions that could apply if scientific misconduct were proven. A senior person in the institution should be clearly identified as being responsible for overseeing and directing the process.


2.2 Even if not set out explicitly, a procedure should include some or all of the following stages, the outcomes of which should be clearly recorded:


 preliminary action, which would at least involve the identified senior person receiving any complaint, notifying all who need to be involved and speedily gathering evidence;


 an assessment stage, which is to determine fairly rapidly whether there is, prima facie, a case to answer. For this stage it is common for the senior person to set up a small, independent committee to assess the evidence;


 a formal investigation if there appears to be a case to answer. This represents the main part of any investigation. The procedures for this formal stage, which would involve an independent person or committee appointed to undertake a significant enquiry, need to be clearly set down. The outcome should be written and unambiguous;


 an appeals stage. A respondent should have a right of appeal to a named individual who is demonstrably independent of the earlier procedures if misconduct is substantiated.


2.3 EPSRC requires that institutions in receipt of its funding have in place a procedure which adheres to the main principles set out above. It would be a serious matter were such arrangements not to be in place, particularly in the event of allegations of malpractice, whatever the eventual outcome. In cases of exceptional gravity, e.g. of proven fraud involving EPSRC funds, the Council reserves the right to apply sanctions to institutions. Those sanctions could include refusing further funding of the institutions concerned.


3. Integrity And Self-Regulation In Science


Principles of Good Scientific Practice


3.1 Good scientific practice includes the following aspects:


 fundamentals of scientific work such as: maintaining professional standards; documenting results; questioning one’s own findings; attributing honestly the contribution of others;


 leadership and cooperation in research groups;


 taking special account of the needs of young researchers; and


 securing and storing primary data.


3.2 For EPSRC-funded research and training these principles apply. EPSRC expects that institutions will have in place policies to ensure sound codes of practice are respected for work they undertake. Adherence to the Council’s guidance set out in the following sections, and to the guidelines for handling cases of scientific misconduct set out in chapter 2 will ensure that this is so.


Implementation of the Principles within Institutions


3.3 Institutions should formulate and disseminate codes of good scientific practice for their own use. As far as possible such codes should be acceptable to, and binding on, all the staff in those institutions, and should be a key element in training schemes and curricula; they should also be succinct and easy to comprehend.


3.4 The EPSRC recommends that HEIs’ (and other institutions’) procedures should be based as far as possible on consensus. It is important that a culture of honesty and integrity in research should be fostered and maintained and that young researchers and students should be inculcated in this culture. As with the procedures for handling cases of scientific misconduct (chapter 2) it is important that institutions’ procedures are widely disseminated and understood.


Leadership and Organisation


3.5 It is the responsibility of leaders of Institutions, their senior colleagues and Department Heads or group leaders at the level of research groups, to ensure that a climate is created that allows research to be conducted within the principles of good scientific practice. Responsibilities should be clearly allocated.


3.6 EPSRC commends what are, essentially, sound management practices to ensure that the honesty and integrity of scientific work can exist. The recommendation requires that scientific ideas can be challenged and tested without loss of face. Equally, it implies, for example, that researchers or research groups should not become subject to such commercial pressures that the normal processes of scientific inquiry cannot be enforced. And it places a responsibility on supervisors, particularly supervisors of postgraduate students, to ensure that good practices are learned and followed. The EPSRC requires institutions it funds to ensure such sound management is practised.


Education of Young Researchers


3.7 The education and development of young scientists and engineers is a matter of particular concern. Institutions should ensure responsibilities for, and standards of, "mentoring" young workers exist within their codes of good practice


3.8 EPSRC particularly requires that postgraduate students in receipt of its studentships should receive good supervision. The requirements are set out in detail elsewhere and are implicit in, for example, the Council’s monitoring of submission rates for PhD theses, and successful completion of advanced course training. HEIs will be particularly alert to various cases of plagiarism which have occurred in the past in degree theses (in whole or in part) and will have clear and rigorous procedures in place to deter and sanction those found to have indulged in misconduct. There is also a broader requirement of institutions and supervisors to ensure that students are not put under unwarranted or unsupervised pressure to produce results at any cost. EPSRC considers it a key element of its relationship with HEIs providing training of postgraduates supported by the Council that good arrangements are in place.


Independent Adjudication within Institutions


3.9 Institutions’ procedures should include the provision to appoint an independent body (eg, an ad-hoc body of scientific expertise) to act in cases of suspected scientific misconduct. There should be a demonstrable separation from the normal line management chain where the alleged incident has arisen.


3.10 The EPSRC’s guidelines for handling cases of scientific misconduct set out in chapter 2 make clear the key role the Council expects for an independent authority (either an individual or a small committee) in such cases. There is, however, a case for HEIs (and other institutions) to identify a senior, independent individual or small committee to assist in lesser cases. The Council commends such a step as part of the good practice it requires EPSRC-funded HEIs to follow. The existence of such an independent authority reinforces the seriousness with which scientific integrity is to be taken.


The Central Role of Data


3.11 Primary data as the basis for publications should be securely stored for an appropriate time in a durable form under the control of the institution of their origin.


3.12 EPSRC strongly recommends this action. Published reports of cases of scientific misconduct are full of accounts of original data which have disappeared and of the circumstances under which they have allegedly been lost. For that reason alone, the recommendation should form part of EPSRC-funded institutions’ procedures to avoid scientific fraud. Additionally, and elsewhere, the Council has endorsed the keeping and maintenance of laboratory notebooks, and other data sources, to ensure that IPR can be protected. The appropriate period for retaining data depends on circumstances (e.g. in some fields, the importance and relevance of data can be superseded very rapidly). Equally the means of data storage (paper, diskette, CD-ROM, etc) should be appropriate to the task. Even if the individuals responsible for generating the data relocate, a set should be maintained in the institution of origin.


Allegations of Scientific Misconduct


3.13 Institutions should establish clear procedures for dealing with allegations of scientific misconduct and should ensure that they are widely disseminated and understood within the institutions. The procedures should allow for even-handed treatment of both the complainant (the person making an allegation of scientific misconduct) and the respondent (the person against whom an allegation is made); the public presumption of innocence should be maintained until the investigation process is complete.


3.14 EPSRC requires institutions to have such procedures adhering to the main principles set out in chapter 2 and indicated above. It should be reiterated that Council itself may impose sanctions where institutions do not have adequate procedures; these could include refusing further Council funding.


Integrity in Submitting Proposals for Research Council Support


3.15 Principal Investigators, Institutions and Research Councils should take all reasonable measures to ensure the accuracy of information which is contained in applications for funding. Appropriately severe penalties should be applied in cases where inaccurate or even fraudulent information is submitted..


3.16 EPSRC reiterates that it is the responsibility of institutions submitting funding proposals to have proper procedures for ensuring that fraud is not perpetrated on EPSRC and for handling cases of scientific misconduct if that occurs. It should be understood that EPSRC reserves the right to impose sanctions, including a refusal to accept further funding proposals, where proper procedures do not exist or have not been applied. The Council’s booklets on the research grant and studentship schemes set out the information required of those submitting funding applications.


Use of Funds Granted by Research Councils


3.17 The Research Councils require institutions and principal investigators in receipt of funding to adhere to the codes of practice which have been promulgated.


3.18 The EPSRC’s position has already been clarified. Although, ultimately, it is for the Institutions concerned to draw up the procedures applicable to their own circumstances and to principal investigators working in those institutions, the EPSRC requires that procedures exist and reserves the right to apply sanctions in cases where it deems that institutions have been negligent or fraudulent in meeting this requirement.


Conduct of Referees and Panel Members


3.19 Research Councils should ensure that referees, panel and committee members acting on their behalf in the assessment of applications for funding understand clearly the responsibilities placed on them to treat proposals confidentially


3.20 EPSRC issues members of its colleges and panel members with clear guidance on their duties of confidentiality and particularly, in the light of the Nolan recommendations, on the avoidance of conflicts of interest. The Council will review these procedures again to assess whether or not they fully cover all circumstances, including those where there could be a risk of scientific misconduct arising from, for example, plagiarism.


3.21 Research Councils should appoint Committees or independent persons to oversee, monitor and audit the efficacy of their policies to ensure good scientific practice.


3.22 EPSRC has asked its Resource Audit Committee (RAC), which is a Standing Committee chaired by a member of Council, to undertake this important function.


4. References And Acknowledgments


The guidance issued here is structured around the overall principles issued by the DGRC and Chief Executives of the Research Councils ("Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice", December 1998), which in turn are based in part on the recommendations of a Commission set up by the DFG in Germany ("Proposals for Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice", January 1998). The principles of a procedure for handling cases of scientific misconduct set out in chapter 2 are based on the procedures issued by the Medical Research Council ("MRC Policy and Procedure for Inquiring into Allegations of Scientific Misconduct", December 1997).



5. Enquiries


Enquiries should be directed to Karen Morris, Research Grant Services. Tel: 01793 444248, e-mail: Copies of "Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice" are available from the Office of Science and Technology. Please contact Pete Owen. Tel: 0171 271 2065, e-mail: