Research integrity: a suspicion of violation– what to do?

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We can situate research practices on a continuum from good to bad. Bad research practices include misconduct or fraud, on the one hand, and a diverse category of violations of good research practices and other unacceptable practices, on the other. Whereas fraud is a well-defined category, consisting of 3 behaviours namely fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, the second category is less well-defined.

There is no list of 'do's and don'ts' that apply to all researchers, in all research circumstances. The values and norms within the ALLEA code need to be translated to each specific research situation. This requires critical reflection by researchers both on their own research behaviour and the behaviour of others, and making choices within the framework of ALLEA. This European code does provide a list of examples of violations, though not exhaustively.


Looking at research behaviour more critically, chances exist you will be faced with questions or doubts on how to act.

Some tips that can help you decide:


Is it really fraud or a violation of research integrity?

  • Consult the European Code for Research Integrity (ALLEA-code).
  • Talk to colleagues or executives (supervisor, head of department, PI, dean, ... or the faculty contact point research integrity) to find out which research behaviour is most appropriate/approved within your discipline. Always do this within an open, non-threatening communication. Attention: always remain critical. Habitual behaviour is not necessarily the same as good scientific practice.
  • Benchmark; how does one deal with (certain aspects of) integrity issues in other universities or research groups. Don't hesitate to address your (inter)national network.
  • A clear standpoint provides support to researchers in doubt: make 'good research practices' clear as a research group or faculty.
  • Never remain stuck with a suspicion or question. Contact the secretary of the Commission for Research Integrity


Is your suspicion sufficiently well-founded?

You can’t express suspicions just like that. There is always a chance that you damage someone or someone’s career unjust. This goes in both directions: an unjust accusation can possibly also damage yourself and your career. In advance, it is often very difficult to make an assessment of the risks and consequences that follow filing a complaint. Therefore, make sure that:

  • the report is accompanied by the necessary evidence. A well-founded complaint consists of a thorough explanation of the facts, preferably built up chronologically and supported by evidence.
  • this evidence can take many forms; from original datasets, to email correspondence, notes and memoranda, images, statements from colleagues involved, etc. It is always important to keep the evidence in mind and to specify what you are accusing the person of and how this shows up in the evidence.

If you have any questions about this, do not hesitate to contact the secretary of the Commission for Research Integrity.


Can I raise the issue?

It may be wise to first assess your suspicions confidentially to a reliable third party. Make this a well-considered choice (head of department, faculty contact point research integrity, …).

In some cases, it is desirable or possible to raise the issue with the person directly involved (the one doing the research practice). It is important that you proceed with caution, paying sufficient attention to the sensitivity of the topic. Describe the situation as clearly as possible and prepare the conversation well. You can let yourself be assisted by the reliable third party or a person of your own choice when addressing the situation.

For some people, this approach may seem accusatory. So ask the secretary of the Commission for Research Integrity for advice beforehand: based on relevant expertise, they can give you useful tips and support further action.


Need extra support?

Sometimes, conversation is not (longer) an option. In that case, you better file a complaint with the Commission for Research Integrity. All Ghent University researchers are encouraged to report any (alleged) violation of research integrity to the CRI. This can easily be done via e-mail. The committee has a procedure that regulates the handling of complaints.



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Last modified Nov. 7, 2023, 5:26 p.m.