From Chemistry World today comes news of new sanctions for research misconduct, as set out in the Research Councils UK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct. Chemistry World reports:
Universities who do not take cases of research misconduct seriously could have their funding withdrawn. … Penalties could be applied to universities or research organisations which fail to meet RCUK’s obligations for research integrity – for example, if institutions conduct incomplete or biased investigations into alleged misconduct or if their researchers have committed ‘persistent research misconduct’. Such failures could result in existing grants being revoked, applications getting rejected ‘for any period of time, including indefinitely’ or even retrospectively clawing back funding from the institution.
The policy document outlines unacceptable research conduct, which includes (bold is mine):
Breach of duty of care, whether deliberately, recklessly or by gross negligence:
- Disclosing improperly the identity of individuals or groups involved in research without their consent, or 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 anticipated
- 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, to ensure appropriate informed consent is obtained properly, explicitly and transparently
- Not observing legal and reasonable ethical requirements or obligations of care for 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 of material; and breach of confidentiality or abuse of material provided in confidence for peer review purposes
Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct:
- Failing to address possible infringements including attempts to cover up misconduct or
reprisals against whistle-blowers
- Failing to deal appropriately with malicious allegations, which should be handled formally
as breaches of good conduct.
Read broadly, the policy seems to say that people conducting laboratory research need to be appropriately informed of the risks of their research and provided with safeguards to conduct their work safely, with the penalty being possible loss of funding (as well as investigation by the UK’s version of OSHA, the Health & Safety Executive). In an educational environment, I think that ideally this means giving people the tools and teaching them to do risk assessment and mitigation, with appropriate oversight.