When research findings are made up from thin air, misrepresented in some way, or blatantly and without credit copied from others, we risk eroding the public’s trust, damaging institutional reputation, harming careers, incurring skepticism, misleading future research, and, arguably most importantly, hurting patients.
NIH takes research misconduct seriously.
We are being proactive. A recently published Notice reminds the community about our expectations that NIH-supported institutions address misconduct allegations when they occur (see NOT-OD-19-020). When a recipient institution finds, learns of, or suspects research misconduct that impacts or may impact an NIH-supported project, the recipient must work with NIH to assess the effect on the integrity of the project.
We are being vigilant. When research misconduct concerns are identified and relayed to the NIH, we work with the recipient institution to protect human participants or vertebrate animals and to protect the integrity of the research and research funding. We also work with our colleagues at the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as ORI has the authority to oversee investigations into allegations of research misconduct involving Public Health Service (PHS) funds.
We are strengthening partnerships. A collegial relationship between recipient institutions, NIH, and ORI is paramount for this process to work. NIH awardees certify, through an assurance with ORI, that they will address allegations of research misconduct that may arise when performing the approved research activity. As part of this, they commit to maintaining confidentiality for all identifiable respondents, complainants, and research subjects involved. In addition, recipient institutions seeking an approved assurance with ORI must have written policies and procedures for addressing research misconduct that include appropriate interim institutional actions and notice of any facts that may be relevant to protect public health, Federal funds and equipment, as well as the integrity of the PHS supported research process. Such actions and notices may involve working with the NIH to protect the project’s scientific integrity, including the safety of any human research participants, laboratory animals, and the environment. ORI has also clarified this reporting responsibility for institutions.
We are taking action. If concerns are identified, NIH addresses them. This may include actions such as imposing specific award conditions (e.g. requiring additional supervision of the research). If an institution fails to comply with the terms and conditions of award, NIH may take further actions that may include disallowance of costs, withholding further support, or suspension or termination of the grant. When researchers who have or may have committed misconduct transfer or plan to transfer institutions, NIH may work with the former institution(s) and/or the new institution(s) to address concerns.
We appreciate that you are vigilant too. If a research misconduct allegation involving NIH-funded research moves to an investigation, recipient institutions must inform ORI and other relevant Public Health Service agencies of any special circumstances that may exist. Special circumstances may include risks to the health or safety of the public, immediate needs to protect human participants or laboratory animal subjects, threats to federal resources, or need to suspend research activities. We will work with you to determine if the project can continue as originally approved, if a change in the scope or senior/key personnel is needed, or some other action is warranted depending on the situation. Together, we can help mitigate effects of fabricated, falsified, or plagiarized information on the integrity of the NIH-supported research project.
The steps we take with our federal partners and recipient institutions are meant to promote the highest levels of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science. When we adhere to the principles of accountability, fairness, openness, and stewardship, our research endeavors will have the best chance to achieve the NIH mission, advance knowledge, and importantly, improve public health.
Want to know more? We invite you to watch this video on our actions to address research misconduct in NIH-supported research.