This policy provides guidelines for handling non-financial research misconduct. For the Science for Africa (SFA) Foundation, research misconduct is considered a breach of grant conditions and dishonest practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific and scholarly community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research.
This policy applies to all SFA Foundation funded research and all proposals submitted for research funding.
Non-financial research misconduct is the fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research.
Research misconduct destroys the integrity or honesty of the research record. This sets it apart from other improper activities that may occur in research settings such as:-
- Honest error or differences of opinion;
- Authorship disputes unless they include plagiarism;
- Financial conflicts of interest;
- Misuse of grant funds.
4.0 Enforcement Policy
This policy will be enforced and updated by the SFA Foundation Programme Manager.
5.0 Policy Statement
All persons taking part in SFA Foundation funded research must affirm and document compliance with the principles and standards outlined in this section and those specified in the statements of undertaking signed by the grant holder.
5.1 Research Misconduct
Fabrication: Making up data or results and recording or reporting them. For example, using fake names and information to support scientific claims.
Falsification: Manipulation of research materials, equipment or processes or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research method.
Plagiarism: The appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit via full citation. This includes claiming undeserved authorship, excluding material contributors from co-authorship, including non-contributors and authors or submitting multi-author papers to authors without consensus of all named authors. Plagiarism does not include authorship or credit disputes.
This includes misrepresentation of data, interests, qualifications and interests in the following two ways:-
- Misrepresentation of data, such as by suppression of relevant findings, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence presenting a flawed data interpretation;
- Undisclosed duplication of publication, including duplicate submission of manuscripts for publication;
- Misrepresentation of interests, including failure to declare material interests either of the researcher or of the research funders;
- Misrepresentation of qualifications and/or experience, including claiming or implying qualifications or experience not held;
- Misrepresentation of involvement, such as inappropriate claims to authorship and/or attribution of work where there has been no significant contribution, or the denial of authorship where an author has made a significant contribution.
Breach of duty of care:
- Disclosing improperly the identity of individuals or groups involved in research without their consent, or any other breach of confidentiality;
- Placing any of those involved in research in danger, whether as subjects, participants or associated individuals, without their prior consent, and without appropriate safeguards even with consent (this includes reputational danger where that can be predicted);
- Not taking all reasonable care to ensure that the risks and dangers, the broad objectives and the sponsors of the research are known to participants or their legal representatives, and/or to ensure appropriate informed consent is obtained properly, explicitly and transparently;
- Not observing legal and reasonable ethical requirements or obligations of care for human or animal subjects, human organs or tissue used in research, or for the protection of the environment;
- Improper conduct in peer review of research proposals or results including manuscripts submitted for publication). This includes failure to disclose conflicts of interest; inadequate disclosure of clearly limited competence; misappropriation of the content; and breach of confidentiality or abuse of material provided in confidence for peer review purposes;
- Breach of any express or implied confidentiality provision including provisions relating to externally awarded funding or research involving external organisations.
- Failure to comply with ethical, legislative and regulatory requirements: Failure to meet ethical, legal and professional standards may also comprise failure to declare competing interests; misrepresentation of involvement or authorship; misrepresentation of interests; breach of confidentiality; lack of informed consent; misuse of personal data; and abuse of research subjects or materials.
- Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct includes: failure to address possible infringements, including attempts to cover up misconduct or reprisals against whistle-blowers; and/or Failure to deal appropriately with malicious allegations, which should be handled formally as breaches of good conduct.
5.2 Research Compliance
- Research involving human participants must be conducted in a manner that demonstrates, protects and preserves respect for persons, concern for the welfare of individuals, families and communities, and justice. Please refer to the SFA Foundation Policy on Humans in Research for more information;
- Research involving animals must be conducted in a manner that ensures their humane care and treatment. Please refer to the SFA Foundation Policy on Use of Animals in Medical and Veterinary Research for more information;
- Certain research endeavours, including but not limited to research with recombinant DNA, biohazards, and genetically modified organisms, may be subject to enhanced regulation and oversight.
5.3 Principles for Administrative Action
When handling reports on research misconduct, the following principles shall apply:-
SFA Foundation will rely on the researcher's home institution to make the initial response to allegations of research misconduct and will usually refer allegations of research misconduct made directly to the SFA Foundation to the appropriate research institution. However, at any time, the SFA Foundation may proceed with its own inquiry or investigation. Circumstances in which SFA Foundation may elect not to defer to the research institution include, but are not limited to, the following:
- SFA Foundation determines the institution is not prepared to handle the allegation in a manner consistent with this policy;
- SFA Foundation’s involvement is needed to protect the public interest, including public health and safety;
- The allegation involves an entity of sufficiently small size (or an individual) that it cannot reasonably conduct the investigation.
Every case is different, so the process is adaptable and has built into it, opportunities for consultation between SFA Foundation and the research’s home institution to agree on a course of action.
This is important when deciding sanctions (which should be informed by precedent if any) and also when applying this procedure in proportion to the type of misconduct.
Documents relating to a case should not be stored on insecure and/or external storage devices. The e-mailing of documentation should be avoided as far as possible. When e-mailing is unavoidable, recipients should be asked to delete the contents from their inboxes once all emails relating to a case are archived on a secure server.
It is important to act as quickly as possible in these cases, to minimise uncertainty and establish clarity.
Programme Management will identify who needs to be kept informed at an early stage of the process. This may or may not include the applicant/grant-holder and/or their institution, depending upon the circumstances.
A breach occurs if the grant holder/host institution fails to abide by the application procedures/grant conditions/undertakings or engages in research misconduct as outlined in section 5 above. Cases of research misconduct may not necessarily relate directly to SFA Foundation funded research: where an allegation of research misconduct is made against an SFA Foundation grant holder, this process applies. There is also a ‘miscellaneous’ category to be dealt with by this process: for example, where an applicant has acted inappropriately towards a member of SFA Foundation staff.
6.1 Research Misconduct Reporting
In order to make a research misconduct report, the following conditions should be in place:-
- There is a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community;
- The misconduct is committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly;
- The allegation can be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
6.2 Reporting and Verification Process
The means by which SFA Foundation is notified of cases research misconduct varies and so the initial SFA Foundation contact must ensure that the relevant SFA Foundation Programme Manager is notified. The Programme Manager will monitor the case and ensure the following are notified:-
- The Director of Programmes;
- The Head of Finance and Grants;
- Legal and Compliance Officer.
6.2.2 Preliminary Review
As soon as possible after notification, a meeting will be convened by the SFA Foundation Programme Manager to conduct a preliminary review of the case to determine:
- The facts as reported;
- The nature of the case: is it appropriate for it to be dealt with using this process?
- Which grants/applications are affected and what action, if any, should be taken in relation to them (normally applications should continue to be processed as normal and grants should be managed in the usual way pending the outcome of the investigation);
- Whether the grant holders’ host institution should be informed;
- The appropriate contact at the institution;
- Next steps, including:-
- what further information is required and who should be asked for it, by whom;
- contact with the institution (whether, who, about what);
- contact with the awardee (whether, who, about what);
- timescale and responsibility for identified actions.
It is at this stage that consideration should be given to whether the Head of Finance and Grants and the Legal and Compliance Officer should be further advised of/involved in the case (i.e. if it is possible that the case will involve legal action on either side; or if there are audit implications).
It is generally an institution’s responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct made against its staff and so investigations will usually be conducted by the institution, during which time the SFA Foundation should keep a watching brief. A member of SFA Foundation staff should be designated to act as a point of contact with the institution during the investigation.
In other, exceptional, cases of research misconduct the SFA Foundation may wish to undertake its own investigation into allegations that concern SFA Foundation-funded researchers. If so, the general process to be followed is outlined below:-
- The Programme Manager will co-ordinate the preliminary review of the case; any necessary investigation; and any actions taken as a result, including the imposition of sanctions;
- All of the above take place in consultation with the Director of Programmes and if necessary, legal advice will be sought;
- Confidentiality is maintained throughout the process and access to documents is restricted;
- The process of review and investigation is undertaken in a timely manner, with deadlines set at each stage of the process.
An institution’s or SFA Foundation investigation will usually either conclude that there is no case to answer, in which case the respondent is deemed to be “innocent of all charges” and the status quo ante will prevail, or that there is a case to answer, in which case disciplinary action will be taken. Some respondents choose to resign at this point. Great care should be taken when reporting the outcome of such cases to avoid suggesting that the respondent has been “found guilty” of misconduct. It may be necessary to transfer a grant to a new PI, using the standard procedure.
6.4 Actions in conclusion
- Send a formal letter to the institution thanking them for keeping the SFA Foundation informed of events;
- Noting the outcome of the investigation/disciplinary proceedings;
- Confirming action taken by the SFA Foundation (e.g. removal of individual from grant records);
- Requesting any necessary action (e.g. submission of an End of Grant Spend Report);
- Amend and update grant holder details on the SFA Foundation Grant Management System (GMS);
- Make a note on the online record; referees’ database (otherwise known as ‘barring’);
- Remove any documentation relating to the case from insecure storage such as email inboxes or desktop files other than an explanatory note.
There is no appeals process. However, consideration should be given to reporting the matter to the Executive Director/Executive Management level if appropriate.
The sanctions specified by the SFA Foundation “may include, but are not restricted to”:
- Appropriate steps to correct the research record;
- Letter of reprimand;
- Withdrawal of funding;
- Withdrawal or correction of pending or published abstracts and papers emanating from the research in question;
- Changes to the staffing of the particular project;
- Special monitoring of future work;
- Barring of the SFA Foundation-funded researcher from applying for SFA Foundation funds for a given period;
- Repayment of grant plus interest at the SFA Foundation’s discretion;
- Discussion with the host institution on the implementation of appropriate disciplinary procedures.
The appropriate sanction should be agreed by Programme management with Programme management keeping records to assist with maintaining consistency. The timescale of the sanction should be specified.
6.7 Whistle Blowing
A whistle blower is an individual who makes an allegation or demonstrates an intent to make an allegation (or what is perceived to be an allegation) while a member of the institution at which the alleged scientific misconduct has occurred. A whistle blower who makes a report on SFA Foundation funded research and wishes to remain anonymous will be granted conditional anonymity unless there are overriding legal or investigatory requirement, upon which the whistle blower will be notified beforehand.
6.7.1 Grant Host Institution’s Duties to the Whistle Blower
- An individual or institution must not retaliate against any person making protected disclosures and should not engage in prohibited obstruction of investigations of research misconduct contrary to SFA Foundation Grants and Conditions;
- Institutions have a duty not to tolerate or engage in retaliation against good faith whistle blowers and hold accountable those who retaliate;
- Institutions have a duty to provide fair and objective procedures for examining and resolving complaints, disputes, and allegations of research misconduct. In cases of alleged retaliation that are not resolved through institutional intervention, whistle blowers should have an opportunity to defend themselves in a proceeding where they can present witnesses and confront those they charge with retaliation against them, except when they violate rules of confidentiality;
- Institutions have a duty to follow procedures that are not tainted by partiality arising from personal or institutional conflict of interest or other sources of bias;
- Institutions have a duty to elicit and evaluate fully and objectively information about concerns raised by whistle blowers;
- Institutions have a duty to handle cases involving alleged research misconduct as expeditiously as possible without compromising responsible resolutions;
- At the conclusion of the proceedings, institutions have a responsibility to credit promptly-in public and/or in private as appropriate those whose allegations are substantiated.
6.7.2 A Whistle Blower’s Responsibilities
- Whistle blowers and other witnesses to possible research misconduct have a responsibility to raise their concerns honourably and with foundation and avoid false statements and unlawful behaviour;
- Whistle blowers have a responsibility to participate honourably in such procedures by respecting the serious consequences for those they accuse of misconduct;
- Whistle blowers have a responsibility to act within legitimate institutional channels when raising concerns about integrity of research;
- Whistle blowers have a responsibility to facilitate expeditious resolution of cases by good faith participation in misconduct procedure.