Scientific misconduct

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The term Scientific misconduct usually refers to any deliberate misrepresentation of the research process, including:

  • fabrication of data
  • theft or plagiarism of data, ideas or methods, from another researcher
  • knowingly incorrect use of methodology, dishonest inclusion or exclusion of data, deceptive analysis of data to misrepresent their interpretation, or dishonesty toward granting authorities. This may be due to conflict of interest.
  • breaches of ethical guidelines with respect to the use of animals in research, or to the use of humans as experimental subjects, or to the use of data obtained from patients without full informed consent.

It is commonly accepted that scientists must keep full and clear records of all of their experiments, and must retain these for inspection in the event of any challenge to reported findings. For example, according to the Society for Neuroscience Policy on Ethics [1]

"The retention of accurately recorded and retrievable results is essential for the progress of scientific inquiry. Moreover, errors may be mistaken for misconduct when primary results are unavailable. Primary data should remain in the laboratory and should be preserved as long as there may be a reasonable need to refer to them."

It is rare for scientists to deliberately falsify their results, although there have been well publicised examples of this. Any scientist who does so takes an enormous risk, because if the claim is important it is likely to be subjected to close scrutiny, and if it is wrong then the reputation of the scientist will suffer regardless of whether his mistakes were honest or not. Honor in Science, published by Sigma Xi, quotes C.P. Snow (The Search 1959): "The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalise false statements made in error, we open up the way, don’t you see, for false statements by intention. And of course a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit."

Under Federal regulations (the Federal Register, vol 65, no 235 a finding of 'research misconduct' requires that There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and The misconduct be committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and The allegation be proven by a preponderance of evidence.