Do investigations into research misconduct allegations need better standards? The Association for the Promotion of Research Integrity (APRIN) in Japan, a group of volunteers who “commit themselves to the promotion of research of high integrity” and provide “e-learning material for research ethics education,” thinks so. Today, we present a guest post by Iekuni Ichikawa, who chaired an APRIN committee that recently came up with a new checklist for such investigations, about the effort.
The procedures currently employed by various institutions in Japan are highly variable; hence there is a risk that complainants or respondents might be treated unfairly and that the public might not be informed of the facts of the matters. We organized the Research Misconduct Investigation Standardization Committee of APRIN in July 2017 to propose standardized procedures for handling investigations of alleged research misconduct. Here, we present the “Checklist for Investigating Allegations of Research Misconduct,” the fruits of our discussions.
Confronted by the recent rise in reports of research misconduct in Japan, government ministries and public funding agencies have issued guidelines on how to respond to allegations of research misconduct, mandating research organizations to deal more stringently with inappropriate conduct of research. Their guidelines outline in general terms what should be done in investigations of allegations of research misconduct. However, they do not provide specifics, such as criteria for finding or not finding misconduct. As a result, organizations are forced to invest unnecessarily large amounts of time and effort, while using their own standards in adjudicating research misconduct allegations. Furthermore, organizations might have to reopen their investigations if flaws are found in their procedures and/or reports. This situation strongly calls for standardization of the procedures for investigating allegations of research misconduct and reporting the results.
Our “Checklist for Investigating Allegations of Research Misconduct” (hereafter, The List) describes critical points for each stage of investigations in chronological order starting from receiving allegations through preparing final reports. The List further calls attention to “Actions,” reminding, for instance, about recommending the suspension of the use of outside funds at an appropriate time, and to “Conformity with rules,” which emphasizes that investigations should conform to rules and regulations drawn up by research organization, government ministries, and funding agencies. As such, The List also serves as a tool for self-checking when preparing reports. The applicability of The List is not limited to medical and life sciences; it is intended for use in all areas of research, including science, technology, humanities, and social sciences.
In preparing The List, we referred to “the Guidelines for Responding to Misconduct in Research” from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (effective August 26, 2014) and the article, “Institutional research misconduct reports need more credibility” (Gunsalus et al. JAMA 319: 1315-1316, 2018, published as a statement of the Expert Meeting held in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. in December 2017). This article presents a “Peer Review Form for Research Integrity Investigation Reports” which lists key aspects of investigation reports for quality evaluation. In contrast, The List itemizes critical issues that must be considered when initiating, conducting and reporting the results of investigations.
We wish to add that The List will require revision in the future as the concept of research misconduct changes along with methods of research.
APRIN was founded in April 2016 by volunteers who commit themselves to the promotion of research of high integrity. APRIN’s activities include, among others, providing e-learning material for research ethics education.
This article is a concise version of the original article published in Japanese language in December 5, 2018 in Gakujyutu-no-doko.
We are deeply indebted to the inputs and suggestions from Dr. Susan Garfinkel at the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) (former Director of the Division of Investigation Oversight, ORI), Ms. Zoë Hammatt (former Director of the Division of Education and Integrity, ORI), Dr. Ivan Oransky (Co-founder of Retraction Watch), and officials of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Japan Science and Technology Agency, and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.
Conflict of Interest
We received no financial support from any individuals or organizations in preparing The List.
Participants in the discussions of the Misconduct Investigation Standardization Committee
Hiroaki Aihara (The University of Tokyo), Fumie Arie (Sophia University), Makoto Asashima (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo), Hiroyuki Daida (Juntendo University), Jun Fudano (Tokyo Institute of Technology), Yasuhiro Fujiwara (National Cancer Center Japan), Shinji Fushiki (Professor Emeritus, Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine), Robert J. Geller (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo), Kazuo Hatano (Astellas Pharma Inc.), Toshio Homma (Shinshu University), Iekuni Ichikawa (Shinshu University; Chair), Minoru Kimura (Tokai University), Naoki Kondo (The University of Tokyo), Toshio Kuroki (Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo), Kohichi Miki (Keio University), Ikuo Morita (Ochanomizu University), Kazuhisa Nakayama (Kyoto University), Kosaku Nitta (Tokyo Women’s Medical University), Rei Nouchi (Shinshu University), Akira Shinohara (Osaka University), Mikiko Shiomi (The University of Tokyo), and Masayuki Yoshida (Tokyo Medical and Dental University).
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