Research ethics and good research practice at Uppsala University
Uppsala University places great emphasis on awareness of research ethics and compliance with good research practices. Society, the public and businesses need reliable scientific results, and it is important that the public has confidence in research. To this end, it is self-evident that every researcher should ensure that irreproachable procedures are followed.
The Swedish Higher Education Act stipulates that in “higher education institutions shall uphold academic credibility and good research practice”. A university or a university college that is informed about suspected misconduct in research has an obligation to investigate the allegations.
What are good research practices?
Good research practices rest on some fundamental principles: that one can be assured that research is of high quality; that research is conducted and reported in a truthful way and with respect to important societal values; and that researchers take responsibility for their research and its consequences.
When serious deviations from good research practices occur, the research can be reported as fraudulent, which at the University is defined in brief as falsifying, misrepresenting or plagiarising research. The researcher also might not have the necessary permits to conduct research or might specify someone as an author (participant in the research) who is not entitled to this.
Misconduct in research
The Board for Investigation of Misconduct in Research at Uppsala University is responsible for investigating suspected misconduct. The Board includes a legally qualified member, teacher and student representatives, an attorney and the University Director.
Misconduct in research includes:
- Falsification and fabrication
- Failure to obtain permits or follow terms and conditions
The Board also has the task of providing information about misconduct in research and counteracting such misconduct in other ways. However, the Board is not charged with taking a position on the quality of research.
How reports about misconduct in research are handled
When the University receives a report of misconduct, the Vice-Chancellor is notified, and the Vice-Chancellor refers the report to the Board for Investigation of Misconduct in Research.
- The accused researcher is informed and an inquiry begins. A reporting officer on the Board is appointed.
- The researcher is offered an opportunity to comment.
- The Board may obtain the opinions of experts, of which at least one is to be from another higher education institution. The expert’s task is to analyse certain specific issues that are important to the inquiry. During the process, additional documentation may be requested.
- The University may, if necessary, seek the opinion of the Central Ethical Review Board, but is always to do so if the person making the allegation or the person being accused desires it and it is not obviously unnecessary.
- When the experts have made their assessment, the accused individual is to be given an opportunity to comment on the assessment.
- When the inquiry is completed, the Board writes a statement of opinion for the Vice-Chancellor, who makes the final decision.
- If the allegations are confirmed, the Vice-Chancellor then decides on a process for possible penalties and disciplinary measures.
- If the study has been published, the publication concerned and any funding agency are contacted.
This applies to reports of misconduct in research received by Uppsala University beginning on 1 January 2017. The report and decisions on cases of suspected misconduct in research are public documents.
All complaints are investigated until it is determined that they clearly deal with something else or are clearly unfounded. In that case, the Vice-Chancellor decides not to investigate, based on presentation of a written report by the Chair of the Board.
On 1 January 2004, the Act Concerning the Ethical Review of Research Involving Humans (2003:460) was introduced. This act applies to research involving a physical intervention on an individual or conducted in a way that could affect a person physically or psychologically and studies of biological material that can be traced back to individuals.
After a change in the law in 2008, more types of research apply under the law: In the future, research involving the processing of sensitive personal data is to undergo ethical review regardless of whether or not the participant has consented, and research conducted with a method that clearly risks injuring the participant always is to be subject to ethical review, which can also apply to questionnaires or surveys.
For research not covered by the law, review of the project may still be advisable. Many publications and conferences require a research ethics permit to publish research or allow delivery of a lecture. Researchers and students may want to obtain ethical advice about a project that seems sensitive in other respects than what is covered by the law. In that case, a recommendation should be obtained.
For questions about Uppsala University’s overall work and strategy on research ethics and good research practice, please contact Stefan Eriksson, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Good Research Practice.