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Research integrity and academic conduct

 

The University's refreshed research and enterprise strategy together with the supporting operational plan sets the commitment to fostering a culture and understanding of research integrity across all its researchers and students.

This value is also considered essential by our funders (including HEFCE & RCUK) as evidenced by their signature of the Research Integrity Concordat. You can read our full Research Integrity Statement in accordance with the Concordat here. The Research Integrity Concordat sets out expectations on the University as an employed and on individual researchers. The University is expected to provide a clear policy, practices and guidance, to support and train researchers, foster a culture of research integrity and ensure robust management systems.

This paper sets out the University's view of what constitutes appropriate conduct in relation to research, what constitutes academic misconduct and therefore a disciplinary offence, and what action should be taken when complaints arise.

Leadership and Organisation

Those responsible for the academic leadership of the University, including the Vice-Chancellor, deans, and heads of departments, should ensure that a climate is created which encourages research to be conducted in accordance with good practice. Heads of department must take responsibility for ensuring that appropriate strategic direction of research and supervision of researchers is provided, including advice on matters of research integrity and academic conduct. (Within research groups, direct responsibility may be delegated to the group leader). These individuals should also create a research environment of mutual co-operation, in which all members of a research team are encouraged to develop their skills and the open exchange of research ideas is fostered.

Academic conduct

The University requires all its academic staff to maintain high standards of academic conduct. In particular, they should be aware of the extreme seriousness of academic fraud, and alert to the need to avoid such conduct, whether by fabrication of research results, plagiarism or otherwise. It is part of the University's mission to foster a research environment which deals forthrightly with possible fraud, and the University regards such conduct as a serious disciplinary matter. This statement must be adhered to by all staff; it may be supplemented in detail by individual faculties and academic departments.

Academic fraud

Academic fraud is a very serious offence, and strikes at the whole basis of academic activity and the search for knowledge. In cases where it is shown to undermine the basis of any of the author's published work, it will be treated as gross misconduct and may lead to dismissal.

Academic fraud does not encompass genuine errors or differences in interpretation or judgement of data. Academic fraud may involve:

Fabricating or falsifying research results

This may include: claims, which cannot reasonably be justified, to have obtained specific or general results; false claims in relation to experiments, interviews, surveys, procedures or any other research activity; or the omission of statements relating to data, results, experiments, interviews, surveys or other procedures, where such omission cannot reasonably be justified.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of another person's ideas, words or work. At one extreme, plagiarism is a very serious form of cheating, such as slavish copying of the work of another. At the other extreme, plagiarism may occur accidentally, through poor standards of scholarship, or may be insignificant in qualitative terms.

Documenting results and storing primary data

Throughout their work, it is good practice for researchers to keep full, clear, and secure records, whether in paper or electronic form, of their procedures and results, including interim findings where applicable. They should include accurate and contemporaneous records of primary experimental data and results, in a form that will provide clear and unambiguous answers to questions concerning the validity of data later. This is necessary both to demonstrate good research practice and to answer subsequent questions. Such records should be kept for 10 years after collection or subsequent publication, whichever is later.

Publication and its responsibilities

Researchers are expected to publish the results of their research. While both Intellectual Property Rights regulations and the requirements of research contracts must be satisfied, only in the most exceptional circumstances of security or confidentiality should research results be withheld from academic scrutiny. In any publication, the authors whether sole or joint must be able to identify their contribution to it, be familiar with its content, and accept personal responsibility for it. In all aspects of research, the contributions of formal collaborators and all others who directly assist or indirectly support the research must be properly acknowledged; failure to acknowledge the contributions of others is regarded as unprofessional conduct, and instances other than minor omissions through oversight will be treated as serious offences. Academic departments should also formulate additional detailed procedures on this issue.

Conversely, collaborators and other contributors carry their share of responsibility for the research and its outcome.

Academic Discourse

Where researchers disagree on questions of interpretation or judgement, it is important that such differences are kept within the bounds of normal civilised academic discourse. Personal abuse, and in particular malicious attempts to undermine the academic reputation of colleagues at this University or elsewhere, constitute gross academic misconduct.

Ethical conduct of research

Where research involves the participation of individuals as the subjects of investigation, it must comply with any ethical guidelines drawn up by the faculty or academic department concerned, and also any ethical guidelines drawn up by the relevant professional body. Participants in a research study have the right to be informed about the aims and purposes of research (except in specific circumstances which are prejudicial to the outcome of the research project), the likely publication of its findings, the context in which they will be reported and the potential consequences for individuals. Full informed consent with signature of documentation must be obtained to participation in clinical trials and to the use of tissues for research. Particular attention should be paid to any code of conduct governing the participation of children or the treatment of animals. Researchers have a responsibility to respect the cultural, religious, gender, and other significant characteristics of sections of the population in planning, conducting and reporting research. Subjects of research are entitled to withdraw from participation at any time.

Individuals who are subjects of research must also have their legal rights explained to them and respected. This includes the Data Protection Act 1998 which comes into force on 1 March 2000 and imposes a number of legal requirements on researchers collecting or holding data about individuals. It covers both data held on a computer and data recorded on paper, in such a way that information about an individual is readily accessible - such as questionnaires filed in alphabetical order. Individuals will need to be given a statement showing the identity of the data controller, which in most cases will be the University, and stating the purposes for which the data are intended to be used and any other information which in those particular circumstances should in fairness be given to the individual about whom the data is being held or collected. In cases of doubt, the University's Data Protection Officer should be consulted.

Good practice also suggests that in every case, the researcher should secure the individual's explicit written consent to the proposed holding and use of the data.

Refereeing

Peer review is an important part of research activity, and it is good practice for those who agree to act as reviewers to declare any potential conflicts of interest, to treat any information received in this capacity as confidential, and not to take advantage of it.

Complaints

Complaints about academic misconduct in research will be referred initially to the Head of department for investigation under the University's disciplinary procedures for academic and academically-related staff, which include provision for the appointment of a Disciplinary Tribunal.

If you would like further information or guidance on Research Integrity matters please contact the Research Integrity and Governance Team on rgoinfo@soton.ac.uk

 

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