Misconduct in Science

Misconduct in science is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, in proposing, performing, or reporting research. Misconduct in science does not include errors of judgment; errors in the recording, selection, or analysis of data; differences in opinions involving the interpretation of data; or misconduct unrelated to the research process.

Fabrication is making up data or results, falsification is changing data or results, and plagiarism is using the ideas or words of another person without giving appropriate credit.

By proposing this precise definition of misconduct in science, the panel is in unanimous agreement that the core of the definition of misconduct in science should consist of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. The panel unanimously rejects ambiguous language such as the category “other serious deviations from accepted research practices” currently included in regulatory definitions adopted by the Public Health Service and the National Science Foundation (DHHS, 1989a; NSF, 1991b). Although government officials have often relied on scientific panels to define “other serious deviations,” the vagueness of this category has led to confusion about which actions constitute misconduct in science. In particular, the panel wishes to discourage the possibility that a misconduct complaint could be lodged against scientists based solely on their use of novel or unorthodox research methods. The use of ambiguous terms in regulatory definitions invites exactly such an overexpansive interpretation.

In rejecting the “other serious deviations” category, the panel considered whether a different measure of flexibility should be included in its proposed definition of misconduct in science, so as to allow the imposition of sanctions for conduct similar in character to fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. Some panel members believe that the definition should also encompass other actions that directly damage the integrity of the research process and that are undertaken with the intent to deceive. For example, misuse of the peer-review system to penalize competitors, deceptive selection of data or statistical analysis, or encouragement of trainees to practice misconduct in science might not always constitute a form of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Yet such actions could, in some circumstances, damage the integrity of the research process sufficiently to constitute misconduct in science.

All members of the panel support the basic definition of misconduct in science proposed above, but the panel did not reach final consensus on whether additional flexibility was needed to address as

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