Academic Research Misconduct

If you're a graduate student who has been accused of academic research misconduct, you're likely wondering what this will mean for your future and for all the time and money you have invested in your education.

What is Research Misconduct?

Most universities follow a research misconduct standard that is known as FFP, or Fabrication-Falsification-Plagiarism. Research misconduct is typically defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

  • Fabrication means making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
  • Falsification means manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or leaving out data or results so that the research is not accurately represented.
  • Plagiarism means appropriating another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving that person credit.

Research misconduct, however, does not include honest errors or simple differences of opinion.

Allegations of research misconduct are not limited to graduate students in the hard sciences. A student involved in research involving objective observation, as is found in “soft” sciences like psychology and anthropology is just as likely to be accused of research misconduct as a student in a “hard” science like physics or chemistry.

What is Not Research Misconduct

Sometimes a university will also consider other practices that seriously depart from those that are commonly accepted within the research community as research misconduct. This could include misusing confidential material, such as manuscripts and grant proposals, or proprietary information or materials that were received in the peer-review process.

Some research practices can be considered inappropriate without being considered misconduct. Examples of these include:

  • Maintaining inadequate research records, especially for results that are published or are relied on by others;
  • Not giving appropriate recognition to people who made significant contributions to the research;
  • Conferring or requesting authorship based on a contribution that is not significantly related to the research being reported;
  • Blocking peers from having access to unique research materials or data that support published papers;
  • Releasing preliminary research results to the public without providing sufficient data to allow peers to judge the validity of the results;
  • Faculty members not supervising others properly in work for which the faculty member is responsible.

If You Have Been Accused

If you have been accused of academic research misconduct, it's tempting to jump in and try to defend yourself. You want to tell your side of the story and explain it. But telling your side before you have all the information about the accusation probably won't help you. Your best tactic is to be quiet, listen, ask questions about the procedures that will be followed, and wait to provide a statement until you've discussed every angle with your lawyer.

When someone is accused of research misconduct, not only will they have to defend themselves in an academic proceeding, they will also be investigated by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ORI investigates and adjudicates research fraud when government funds are involved, and recommends administrative actions to the Assistant Secretary for Health. The Lento Law Firm represents our clients through both settings—the academic investigation and process, and the ORI investigation and recommendations. Our experience handling academic conduct matters, criminal law, and employment law uniquely prepares us to represent our clients on all fronts.

Ideally, you will contact an attorney as soon learn about the allegations. However, it is never too late to contact an attorney, no matter the stage of the proceedings. Though you may be tempted to handle the process on your own, there are procedural issues involved that are best handled by legal counsel. Not understanding and appropriately managing the procedural issues that arise can damage your chances to prevail and clear your name.

The Lento Law Firm can help you respond to allegations of academic research misconduct. Call us today at 888-535-3686.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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