According to the Higher Education Act (Högskolelagen (1992:1434)), higher education institutions shall uphold academic credibility and good research practice in the course of their operations (3a§). According to the Higher Education Ordinance(Högskoleförordningen (1993:100)), a higher education institution  that becomes aware of suspected misconduct in research, artistic research or development work at the higher education institution shall investigate the suspicions (16§). What, then, is good research practice? And what does misconduct in research amount to?

Good research practice

There is no exact definition of “good research practice” or corresponding terms in other languages. It could be described as the moral practice that develops as a result of critical reflection by different actors in science and society (cf. SOU 1999:4) or as “[t]he collective ethical criteria on how good research should be conducted” (Good Research Practice, VR, 2017:17). This is often taken to include demands on objectivity, impartiality, and independence; honesty in communication; transparency with respect to methods and results; recognition and management of potential harms, risks, and conflicts of interest. (See also The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity).

Misconduct in research

The term “misconduct in research” also lacks a globally accepted definition (as do other, near-equivalent terms), but it is usually taken to refer to especially grave deviations from good research practice. The core cases are commonly defined in terms of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism (abbreviated as “FFP”; cf. OECD 2008), but misconduct in research can also be taken to include things like theft, wrongful claim of authorship, hindering scientific review, conducting research without the required ethical permissions, breach of confidentiality, dishonesty in reporting to funding agencies, suppression of undesired results, and dissemination of false or distorted results. Intent or gross negligence is usually required in order for a deviation from good practice to count as misconduct.

Managing suspicions of misconduct

At Stockholm University, cases of suspected misconduct in research are investigated by the Ethics Council (Etiska Rådet), consisting of the deputy vice-presidents, the deans of the human science area, the pro-dean of the science area, and the teacher representatives of the University Board. The Ethics Council can also call on external expertise for participation or advice. More information about the Ethics Council is available here.

In a recent proposal from the government based on the report (SOU 2017:10), a new law has been proposed, according to which cases of suspected misconduct in research are to be investigated by a new, independent authority: “Oredlighetsnämnden”. The proposed law also contains a definition of misconduct in research: “Serious breaches of good scientific practice in the form of fabrication, falsification or plagiarism that are committed intentionally or with gross negligence in the planning, performance or reporting of research.” The higher education institutions will still be responsible for investigating cases that are not covered by this definition. The legislation is proposed to be effective from September 2019.

Reporting misconduct

Cases of suspected misconduct in research at Stockholm University should be reported (preferably in writing) to the President. A report made to any other employee at Stockholm University should be forwarded to the President immediately.

If you have more general questions about good research practice or misconduct in research, you are welcome to contact Jonas Åkerman at the Research Support Office.