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Scientific Misconduct: Policy on Allegations, Investigations and Reporting

Each member of the College community has a responsibility to foster an environment which promotes intellectual honesty and integrity, and which does not tolerate misconduct in any aspect of research or scholarly endeavor.  Scientific misconduct is extremely troubling—in spite of its infrequency—because when it occurs, it is very destructive of the standards we attempt to instill in our students, of the esteem in which academic science in general is held by the pubic, and of the financial support of the government and other sponsors for academic scientific enterprise.  The importance of integrity in research cannot be overemphasized.

The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), both federal agencies, currently have their own policies regarding scientific misconduct, and require notification to the respective agency in the event of such an allegation or investigation.  Where required, notification to the agency will be made by the Provost and Dean of the Faculty (hereinafter “the Provost”).  (See the following Sections:  IV. Internal Coordination and Reports to the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, and V. Notification to External Agencies.)

While both PHS and NSF recognize that the primary responsibility for the prevention and detection of misconduct, and for the conduct of inquiries and investigations, rests with the awarded institution, they both retain the right to initiate their own investigations at any time.

I. DEFINITIONS

Barnard College's definition of scientific misconduct, and procedures for investigating and reporting allegations of misconduct, conform to the definitions and regulations of federal funding agencies, which have policies on this subject.

A.        Scientific Misconduct

"Scientific misconduct" is defined as fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research.  It does not include honest error or honest differences in interpretations or judgments of data.  Also included as "scientific misconduct" for this purpose is retaliation of any kind against a person who, acting in good faith, reported or provided information about suspected or alleged misconduct.

B.        Inquiry

An inquiry consists of preliminary information-gathering and preliminary fact-finding to determine whether an allegation or an apparent instance of misconduct has substance.  The outcome of an inquiry is a determination as to whether or not an investigation is to be conducted.

C.        Investigation

An investigation is a formal examination and evaluation of relevant facts to determine whether or not misconduct has taken place.

D.        Complainant

The individual who is making the allegation of research misconduct.

E.        Respondent
           
The individual who is the subject of an allegation of research misconduct.

II. INDIVIDUAL REPORTING RESPONSIBILITY

            An individual who believes an act of scientific misconduct has occurred or is occurring should notify the Assistant Provost.  Reporting such concerns in good faith is a service to the College and to the larger academic community, and will not jeopardize anyone's employment.

III. PROCESS AND TIME FRAME FOR ASSISTANT PROVOST'S REVIEW

The Assistant Provost's inquiry and, if called for, investigation may be carried out personally or through such standing or ad hoc arrangements as the Assistant Provost deems best.  (See below, section VII. Cautions and Assistance.)

  A.       Inquiry

Upon receipt of an allegation of scientific misconduct, the Assistant Provost shall immediately begin an inquiry and shall so inform the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, identifying any outside funding source(s) for the research, which is the subject of the inquiry.  The Assistant Provost may select two (2) tenured members of the faculty to assist her in this inquiry.  This inquiry is to determine whether a formal investigation is warranted, and shall be guided by the following:

  • Prior to or at the beginning of the inquiry, the respondent shall be informed in writing of the allegations, given a copy of this policy, and be invited for an interview to comment on misconduct allegations. Contemporaneously and as specified in the regulations, the Assistant Provost shall inventory and sequester all research records and other evidence needed to conduct the research misconduct investigation.  Where appropriate, the respondent shall be given access to or copies of research records. Respondent shall also be provided with a draft copy of the inquiry, and be given an opportunity to comment on the findings.  In so doing, best efforts should be made to protect the confidence of the individual who brought forward the complaint. The respondent shall also receive a copy of the final inquiry report, which must refer to any institutional policies and procedures under which the investigation was conducted.
  • Any other relevant individuals, including complainant(s), if known, should be interviewed.
  • The final inquiry report, including a recommendation as to whether or not a full investigation is warranted, must be submitted by the Assistant Provost to the Provost within sixty (60) days of receipt of the allegation. If this time frame is not possible in a particular case, the reasons are to be documented and the Provost so informed. 
  • The final report and documentation shall include sufficient detail to permit a later assessment of the determination of whether or not a full investigation was warranted.  The report should contain the following information: (1) the name and the position of the respondent; (2) a description of the allegations of research misconduct; (3) the PHS support involved including grants applications, grant numbers, and publications listing PHS support; (3) the basis for any conclusions including the information reviewed, a summary of the interviews conducted; (4) a statement of the conclusions reached, and whether or not the Assistant Provost believes an investigation is warranted for each allegation; and (5) any comments on the report submitted by the respondent.
  • The final report of the inquiry and documentation, including transcript or recordings of interviews, must be maintained by the College for seven (7) years.

 

Unless the Provost has further concerns, the Assistant Provost's recommendation that an internal investigation is not warranted will be final.

 B.       Investigation

If the inquiry leads to the conclusion that an investigation is necessary, it will be guided by the following considerations:

  • The formal investigation should begin within thirty (30) days of the completion of the inquiry.  The investigation should be completed and the final report sent to the Provost within ninety (90) days.  (If an investigation cannot be completed within this time frame, the Provost should be notified as soon as possible.  In such cases, it may be necessary for the Provost to request an extension of time from federal funding agencies.)
  • The investigative process must be thorough, fair and protective of the confidentiality and reputation of all participants.
  • An investigation should normally include an examination of all documentation, including but not limited to relevant research data and proposals, publications, correspondence, and memoranda of telephone calls.
  • Complainants, respondents, and those who may have information related to the matter should be interviewed.  Complete written summaries of each interview should be provided to the individual being questioned, and any comments should be appended to the summary, or reflected in a revised summary if the interviewer agrees.  The Assistant Provost must retain the summaries. 
  • All significant issues should be pursued until the investigator is reasonably certain that he/she has amassed all necessary and available information.
  • A draft written report of findings should be made available to the respondent.  Where identified, those who made the allegations should also receive the portions of the draft report, which concern the role or opinions, they had in the investigation.  Comments on the draft from the respondent or the complainant should be appended to the final report provided that the comments are received by the Assistant Provost within seven (7) calendar days from the date the draft report was issued.

NOTE:  If there is more than one respondent, and their involvements are found not to be identical, separate draft reports should be prepared if practical, in order to preserve confidentiality.

  • In addition to the interview summaries and comments by the respondent and the complainant(s) on the draft report, the final written report should include:  (a) a description of the policies and procedures followed; (b) how and from whom relevant information was obtained; and (c) the findings and basis for them.
  • If either the Assistant Provost or the Provost considers that sanctions may be warranted, the Provost shall refer the final report to the College official who makes that determination (see Section VI).  The report should be sufficient for the President, or other appropriate College officers, to determine whether disciplinary action is called for.  If any sanctions result, the Provost shall be informed, and shall append that information to the final report.

             
If termination of an inquiry or investigation before its completion is contemplated for any reason, this should be reported and discussed with the Provost. In addition, the Provost is to be advised at once if any of the following urgent circumstances are discovered:

  1. if public health or safety is at risk;
  2. if the resources or interests of a funding agency or the College are threatened;
  3.  if research activities should be suspended;
  4. if there is reasonable indication of possible violations of civil or criminal law;
  5. if federal action is requested to protect the interests of those involved in the investigation;
  6. if there is a likelihood that an alleged incident will be reported publicly;
  7. If the research community or public should be informed.

The Assistant Provost shall also take interim action as necessary to protect federal funds and the purposes of the federal grant or contract that may be involved.  Such action is administrative and not disciplinary.  The Assistant Provost shall inform the Provost of such actions.

If, during an investigation, facts come to light that could affect current or potential funding of the people under investigation, or that may, in the Assistant Provost's judgment, need to be disclosed in order to ensure proper use of research funds or protection of the public interest, these facts should be reported to the Provost as they are learned.

IV. NOTIFICATION TO EXTERNAL AGENCIES

            NOTE:  Barnard College will comply with the requirements and regulations of its funding agencies.  The following section reflects those requirements as of May 2005.  In any particular situation, College officials are advised to review current regulations and requirements.

            Under circumstances not involving the Public Health Service or other regulated funding agencies, the President will make the decision whether information about the charges and their disposition will be disclosed publicly or to specific parties, including the research sponsor.  This decision will normally be made upon the conclusion of the final report.  However, if required by urgent circumstances, such a disclosure may be made at any time.  Absent such urgent need, Barnard will not make interim reports to outside agencies unless required by external regulation.

            The PHS requires annual assurances from Barnard College of compliance as well as aggregated information on allegations, inquiries, and investigations.  Except as specifically described at the end of this section, notifications to external agencies will be made only by the Provost, acting on behalf of the President, and on the basis of the information provided by the Assistant Provost.  Further, in accord with PHS and NSF regulations, in cases involving research funded by either of these agencies, the funding agency will be informed in the following situations. 

A.        Outcome of an Inquiry

            PHS and NSF will be notified of the outcome of an inquiry involving funds from their agency only if that outcome includes the recommendation to conduct a full investigation. 

B.        Commencement of an Investigation

            Written notification will be provided to PHS or NSF upon determination that an investigation will be conducted.  This notice shall be provided on or before the commencement of the investigation, and must include all information required by the agency.  In the case of PHS-funded research, this notice must include the inquiry report and the written determination by the Assistant Provost that an investigation is warranted.  Upon a request from a federal agency, even in cases  that are not recommended for investigation, the Provost shall send them the following: (1) a copy of our institutional policies; (2) the research records and evidence reviewed, transcripts or recordings of any interviews, and copies of all relevant documents; (3) the charges for the investigation to consider. Regulations provide that this information will be held in confidence to the extent permitted by law.  Note, however, that although the information will not be disclosed to peer reviewers or PHS advisory committees, it may be used by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in making decisions about the award or continuation of funding. In addition, PHS may disclose information to other persons for the purpose of providing or obtaining information about research misconduct as permitted by law.

C.        Written Request for a Time Extension

            Although PHS regulations permit 120 days for completion of the investigation and submission of the final report, Barnard requires faculty to consult with the Provost if it appears that the final report will take more than 90 days to complete.  This allows 30 days for the disciplinary process, if it is decided to pursue one.  The final report to PHS must include a statement about the sanction (if any) imposed or pending by the institution.

            If the investigation and determination of discipline are likely to take more than 120 days to complete, the Provost will so notify PHS, including reasons for the delay, interim progress reports, the estimated date of completion of the report, and any other necessary information.  If an extension is granted, PHS may require the submission of periodic interim reports, or the agency may undertake its own investigation prior to the College's completion of its investigation.

            NSF requires completion of the inquiry within 90 days, and completion of the investigation, including submittal of the final report, within 180 days.  If completion of either is expected to be delayed, NSF may require submission of periodic status reports.

D.        Interim Reports

            PHS must be apprised during an investigation of facts that may affect current or potential PHS funding of the individual(s) under investigation, or that may need to be disclosed in order to ensure proper use of federal funds or protection of the public interest.  Similarly, NSF requires interim reports if the seriousness of the apparent misconduct so warrants; if immediate health hazards are involved; if NSF's resources, reputation, or other interests need protecting; or if federal action may be needed to protect the interests of a subject of the investigation or others potentially affected.

E.        Early Termination

            PHS must be notified of any decision to terminate any inquiry or investigation prior to the completion of all relevant requirements.  This notice must include the reasons for such action.  PHS retains the right to investigate the matter further on its own.

F.         Final Outcome

            PHS and NSF will be notified of the final outcome of an investigation involving their funded project(s), and provided with the following: (1) a copy of the investigation report, all attachments, and any appeals; and (2) a statement of whether the institution found research misconduct.

G.        Special Emergency Notifications

In addition, the Public Health Service must be informed at any stage of an inquiry or investigation if any of the following are discovered:

  • if public health or safety is at risk;
  • if the resources or interests of a funding agency are threatened;
  •  if research activities should be suspended;
  • if there is reasonable indication of possible violations of civil or criminal law;
  • if federal action is requested to protect the interests of those involved in the investigation;
  • if the Assistant Provost believes that the administrative processes may be made public prematurely, so that a federal; agency may take appropriate  to safeguard evidence and protect the rights of those involved;
  • if the research community or public should be informed.

In the case of suspected criminal activity, PHS requires notification within 24 hours.

In special emergency circumstances as defined above, the Assistant Provost should attempt to reach the Provost (by phone if necessary; in writing, if possible).  However, the Assistant Provost is authorized to make such reports directly to the agency, and to so inform the Provost afterwards, if, in the judgment of the Assistant Provost, such action is necessary.

H.       Cooperation with Office of Research Integrity

Barnard College will cooperate with PHS in carrying out relevant administrative actions undertaken pursuant to relevant laws and federal regulations. 

V. DETERMINATION OF DISCIPLINE

The determination as to whether discipline is to be imposed is governed by existing policies.  In cases involving faculty, sanctions may only be imposed by the President, through the faculty disciplinary process.  The Provost will refer cases of significant student misconduct to the Student Honor Board.  Cases involving staff members will be referred to the appropriate administrator.

VI. INTERNAL COORDINATION AND REPORTS TO THE PROVOST

In order to assure compliance with external notification requirements, the Assistant Provost must report the following circumstances to the Provost in a timely manner:

  • commencement of an inquiry
  • conclusion of an inquiry
  • commencement of an investigation
  • conclusion of an investigation

Both PHS and NSF have the right to impose additional sanctions, beyond those applied by the institution, upon investigators or institutions, if they deem such action appropriate in situations involving funding from their respective agency.

VII. CAUTIONS AND ASSISTANCE

The gathering and assessing of information in cases of alleged scientific misconduct can be extremely difficult.  It is essential to protect the professional reputations of those involved, as well as the interests of the public and of any who might be harmed by the alleged misconduct.  In the course of conducting inquiries or investigations, the following provisions are applicable:

  • Expert assistance should be sought as necessary to conduct a thorough and authoritative evaluation of all evidence.
  • Precautions should be taken to avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest on the part of those involved in the inquiry or investigation. Scientific experts or those conducting the investigation shall be screened for any unresolved personal, professional, or financial conflicts of interest with those involved in the inquiry or investigation.
  • The identity of the respondent, the complainant, and witnesses shall be protected to the extent possible, and care shall be taken to protect their positions and reputations.  Except as required in the reporting provisions above, only those directly involved in an inquiry or investigation should be aware that the process is being conducted or have any access to information obtained during its course.  As requested by the individual or his or her authorized representative, practical efforts shall be made to restore the reputations of witnesses, good faith complainants, and respondents when allegations are not confirmed.

Questions on the interpretation of this policy should be directed to the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty.

September 1998, February 2003, revised January 2010