Guidelines of the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity 2012 (text-only version)
These RCR guidelines were published on 14 November 2012 and are applied from 1 March, 2013. A research organisation may commit itself to following these guidelines by signing the commitment form that is available on the TENK web page, www.tenk.fi.
Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity
Editorial staff: Krista Varantola (chair), Veikko Launis, Markku Helin, Sanna Kaisa Spoof & Sanna Jäppinen (secretary)
ISBN 978-952-5995-06-0 (pain.)
ISBN 978-952-5995-07-7 (pdf)
A print version of the guidelines can be downloaded in Finnish, Swedish and English: Responsible conduct of research and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in Finland. Guidelines of the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity 2012 (PDF)
The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity (TENK), which is appointed by The Ministry of Education and Culture, has published guidelines for the responsible conduct of research and for handling alleged violations of conduct (the RCR guidelines) in co-operation with the Finnish research community. The objective is to promote the responsible conduct of research (in Finnish hyvä tieteellinen käytäntö) while ensuring that the alleged violations are handled with competence, fairness and expediency.
The RCR guidelines provide researchers with a model for the responsible conduct of research. The effectiveness of these guidelines is based on a voluntary commitment by the research community to adhere to them, and to increase awareness of the principles of research integrity. The RCR guidelines apply to all academic disciplines in Finland, and a list of the organisations committed to these guidelines can be found on TENK’s website.
The objective of these guidelines is to promote the responsible conduct of research and to prevent misconduct in research in all organisations involved in research work, such as universities, research institutes and universities of applied sciences. These guidelines are also to be adhered to, whenever applicable, when co-operating with enterprises and other partners, either nationally or internationally.
The premise of the RCR guidelines is that promoting the responsible conduct of research and handling alleged violations are primarily the responsibility of the organisations conducting research. When alleged misconduct has been reported and the report has been finalised by the organisation, the party dissatisfied with the ruling may request a statement from TENK. In its other activities, TENK focuses on promoting the responsible conduct of research, as well as formulating and publicising common guidelines in co-operation with the research organisations.
In addition to the RCR guidelines, TENK has published the guidelines entitled "Ethical principles of research in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences and proposals for ethical review" and, in co-operation with the research community, has formulated a model CV for researchers, Template for researcher's curriculum vitae.
In Finnish, the term research ethics (tutkimusetiikka) is a general concept that covers all the ethical viewpoints and evaluations that are related to science and research. The scope and mandate of the Advisory Board is, however, narrower and refers to following an ethically responsible and proper course of action in research, as well as identifying and preventing fraud and dishonesty in all research. In English, this concept is usually referred to as research integrity, a term that emphasises the honesty and integrity that all researchers are required to adopt in their research activities. According to the internationally established practice, the name of the Advisory Board was changed to the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity in 2012.
The Advisory Board does not intervene when there are violations of the norms of a specific academic discipline if these violations do not at the same time constitute a fraud as described in the RCR guidelines. Furthermore, the Advisory Board does not address alleged violations of the law, such as copyright law or patent law.
As the Advisory Board focuses solely on research integrity issues, its statements comment only on whether the RCR investigation has been conducted in compliance with these guidelines, and whether there has been a violation of the responsible conduct of research. In other words, the Advisory Board does not comment on matters of opinion, on the different schools of thought, or on issues of professional ethics.
Certain academic disciplines have their own ethical norms and governing bodies, such as The National Advisory Board on Social Welfare and Health Care Ethics (ETENE), The National Committee on Medical Research Ethics (TUKIJA) and the Advisory Board on Biotechnology (BTNK). These boards and committees offer advice on professional ethics in more detail, for example, by offering information on the relationship between the researcher and the research subject. In addition to these boards and committees, some institutions, such as universities, hospitals and universities of applied sciences, have regional and local advisory boards on research integrity.
Moreover, there has been extensive international debate on the common principles of research integrity and on how to identify the violations of the responsible conduct of research. Some codes of conduct jointly created and agreed upon are The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (European Science Foundation ESF & ALL European Academies ALLEA 2011), the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity (World Conference on Research Integrity 2010, Singapore), the Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, ICMJE), and the Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors (Committee on Publication Ethics, COPE 2011).
The RCR guidelines are in accordance with the international codes of conduct. The RCR guidelines also provide the guidelines for investigating alleged RCR violations in Finland.
The responsible conduct of research
In order for research to be ethically acceptable and reliable and for its results to be credible, the research must be conducted according to the responsible conduct of research. Applying the guidelines for the responsible conduct of research within the research community constitutes a form of self-regulation that is bound by legislation. Furthermore, the responsible conduct of research is an integral part of the quality assurance of research organisations. From the point of view of research integrity, the premises for the responsible conduct of research are the following:
- The research follows the principles that are endorsed by the research community, that is, integrity, meticulousness, and accuracy in conducting research, and in recording, presenting, and evaluating the research results.
- The methods applied for data acquisition as well as for research and evaluation, conform to scientific criteria and are ethically sustainable. When publishing the research results, the results are communicated in an open and responsible fashion that is intrinsic to the dissemination of scientific knowledge.
- The researcher takes due account of the work and achievements of other researchers by respecting their work, citing their publications appropriately, and by giving their achievements the credit and weight they deserve in carrying out the researcher’s own research and publishing its results.
- The researcher complies with the standards set for scientific knowledge in planning and conducting the research, in reporting the research results and in recording the data obtained during the research.
- The necessary research permits have been acquired and the preliminary ethical review that is required for certain fields of research has been conducted.
- Before beginning the research or recruiting the researchers, all parties within the research project or team (the employer, the principal investigator, and the team members) agree on the researchers’ rights, responsibilities, and obligations, principles concerning authorship, and questions concerning archiving and accessing the data. These agreements may be further specified during the course of the research.
- Sources of financing, conflicts of interest or other commitments relevant to the conduct of research are announced to all members of the research project and reported when publishing the research results.
- Researchers refrain from all research-related evaluation and decision-making situations, when there is reason to suspect a conflict of interest.
- The research organisation adheres to good personnel and financial administration practices and takes into account the data protection legislation.
In addition, researchers also need to comply with the practices listed above when working as teachers or instructors, when applying for research positions or for research funding, as well as when functioning as experts in their field both inside and outside the research community.
Besides research activity, the principles of responsible conduct of research apply to teaching materials, written and spoken statements, evaluations, CVs and publication lists, as well as to societal interaction in both printed and electronic publication channels, including the social media.
Each individual researcher and research group member is primarily responsible for complying with the principles of the responsible conduct of research. Nonetheless, the responsibility also rests on the whole research community: research groups and their principal investigators, the directors of research units and the administration of research organisations.
Universities and universities of applied sciences should ensure that their students are well versed in the principles of the responsible conduct of research and that the teaching of research integrity is integrated into their graduate and postgraduate programmes. Research institutes, for their part, should ensure that research integrity training is available for their staff. Additionally, it is the task of every research training unit to handle questions regarding the responsible conduct of research that are pertinent to the respective field of education as a part of their research training programme. In order to guarantee the practice of the responsible conduct of research, universities and universities of applied sciences should offer continuing education in research integrity to their teachers, to supervisors of theses, researchers, heads of research programmes and to other experts.
Learned societies in Finland can promote the responsible conduct of research, for example, through a peer review system of scholarly and scientific publications. In addition, research funding organisations, such as the Academy of Finland, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes), as well as foundations and funds, can also encourage the researchers in the projects funded by these organisations to commit themselves to the responsible conduct of research, and consequently, when feasible, to follow the RCR guidelines in the handling of alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research.
Violations against the responsible conduct of research
For a researcher to be professionally competent, they need to master the knowledge and the methodology associated with their field as well as to comply with ethically sustainable practices. Poor research skills decrease the reliability of results and may even invalidate the research itself. Poor research skills manifest themselves as a lack of competence in the field and as negligence in conducting research and when recording, archiving and reporting results. However, negligence and shortcomings in knowledge do not necessarily mean that a researcher’s professional practices are ethically questionable.
Violations of the responsible conduct of research (RCR) refer to the unethical and dishonest practices that damage research and in worst cases, these invalidate the research results. Violations of the responsible conduct of research consist of actions that may have been committed either intentionally or through negligence. While it is difficult to define these types of violations in detail and unambiguously, with the help of examples it is possible to characterise ethically irresponsible practices. The violations of the responsible conduct of research can be classified into the following:
- Research misconduct
- Disregard for the responsible conduct of research
Research misconduct and disregard for the responsible conduct of research may occur in planning and performing the research and in presenting the research results and conclusions. Allegations of research misconduct and disregard for the RCR are dealt with through the procedure of handling alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research. This is referred to as the RCR process. Disregard for the responsible conduct of research and for research misconduct violate the responsible conduct of research, but they may also violate the law. In addition to the two categories mentioned above, other types of ethically irresponsible research practices may occur in research communities. However, sincere differences of opinion that result from the interpretations and assessments of research results belong to academic and scientific debate and do not violate the responsible conduct of research.
Research misconduct refers to misleading the research community and often also to misleading decision-makers. This includes presenting false data or results to the research community or spreading false data or results in a publication, in a presentation given in a scientific or scholarly meeting, in a manuscript that is intended to be published, in study materials or in applications for funding. Furthermore, misconduct refers to misappropriating other researchers’ work and to representating other researchers’ work as one’s own. Research misconduct is further divided into the following four subcategories:
- Fabrication refers to reporting invented observations to the research community. In other words, the fabricated observations have not been made by using the methods as claimed in the research report. Fabrication also means presenting invented results in a research report.
- Falsification (misrepresentation) refers to modifying and presenting original observations deliberately so that the results based on those observations are distorted. The falsification of results refers to the unfounded modification or selection of research results. Falsification also refers to the omission of results or information that are essential for the conclusions.
- Plagiarism, or unacknowledged borrowing, refers to representing another person’s material as one’s own without appropriate references. This includes research plans, manuscripts, articles, other texts or parts of them, visual materials, or translations. Plagiarism includes direct copying as well as adapted copying
- Misappropriation refers to the unlawful presentation of another person’s result, idea, plan, observation or data as one’s own research.
In international guidelines, misconduct is usually divided into three categories: fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, which is also referred to as the FFP categorisation. The tradition in Finland has been to maintain a more comprehensive and analytical categorisation; hence misappropriation is separated from plagiarism and is considered to be a distinct category.
Disregard for the responsible conduct of research
Disregard for the responsible conduct of research manifests itself as gross negligence and carelessness during the research process. This type of behaviour can be identified when researchers engage in:
- denigrating the role of other researchers in publications, such as neglecting to mention them, and referring to earlier research results inadequately or inappropriately;
- reporting research results and methods in a careless manner, resulting in misleading claims;
- inadequate record-keeping and storage of results and research data
- publishing the same research results multiple times ostensibly as new and novel results (redundant publication, also referred to as self-plagiarism);
- misleading the research community in other ways.
Other irresponsible practices
Other irresponsible practices may also occur in research. For example, researchers may engage in:
- manipulating authorship, for example, by including in the list of authors persons who have not participated in the research, or by taking credit for work produced by what is referred to as ghost authors
- exaggerating one’s own scientific and scholarly achievements, for example, in a CV or its translation, in a list of publications, or on one’s homepage
- expanding the bibliography of a study to artificially increase the number of citations
- delaying the work of another researcher, for example, through refereed peer reviewing
- maliciously accusing a researcher of RCR violations
- hampering inappropriately the work of another researcher
- misleading the general public by publicly presenting deceptive or distorted information concerning one’s own research results or the scientific importance or applicability of those results
In their most serious forms, these practices may meet the criteria of an RCR violation mentioned above.
Guidelines for handling alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research
It is in the mutual interests of society, the research community, and the researchers, to resolve all allegations of research misconduct. The RCR guidelines published by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity are internal ethical guidelines for the Finnish research community and are used for addressing allegations of the violations of the responsible conduct of research in universities, research institutes, universities of applied sciences, and in other research organisations. The research organisations that have signed the agreement have committed themselves to applying the following procedures to cases of alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research.
The guidelines apply to investigations into the alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research. In addition to research and publications, they also apply to all other types of written works in conjunction with academic work, irrespective of their form of publication. These works include textbooks, funding applications, project applications, poster presentations, evaluations of academic theses, and referee statements.
These guidelines also apply to the investigations of alleged RCR violations in academic theses submitted for a Master’s degree or a higher academic degree, including the higher degrees in the universities of applied sciences, even when the thesis is not published. If the approval of the thesis is pending, or the candidate has not yet been granted permission to defend the thesis, the institution can investigate the allegations by following an internal procedure, unless the researcher suspected of a RCR violation insists on an investigation according to these guidelines.
Research misconduct and disregard for the responsible conduct of research will not expire. However, universities, universities of applied science or research institutions can decide not to conduct an RCR investigation when a significant amount of time has passed since the alleged misconduct and the investigation would no longer affect ethically sustainable research practices, research quality assurance or the legal protection of other parties. On request, The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity will provide a statement regarding the decision made by the institution.
In addition to following these guidelines, the investigations into alleged RCR violations also need to abide by current legislation. The investigations into alleged RCR violations do not handle issues that are related to criminal law, immaterial rights or labour law, or into other legal issues that may be related to the alleged violation. The investigation procedure for alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research involves three steps:
- A written notification
- A preliminary inquiry
- The investigation proper
The most crucial factors ensuring the fairness of the procedure to all parties are:
- The fairness and the impartiality of the process
- The hearing of all the involved parties
- The competence and expediency of the process
This requires that each phase of the procedure be carefully documented and that the parties' right to information and their other rights concerning the procedure are respected. If a party of the procedure does not have a sufficient command of Finnish or Swedish, then the language used during the investigation, for example, in hearings and documents, is the language commonly used by the researcher with the organisation.
The person responsible for the making the decision is the rector of the university, or if the university so decides, the chancellor, or the rector of a university of applied sciences, or the director of the research organisation. This person is also responsible for adhering to the instructions of the procedure during the whole process. The decision making cannot be delegated to another person.
The notification of alleged RCR misconduct is to be sent to the respective university or university of applied sciences or to the research institute in which the research has primarily been conducted. If those alleged of misconduct have worked in several research communities, the handling of the alleged misconduct requires cooperation between the respective organisations, which are to agree amongst themselves as to how to conduct the investigation.
The RCR investigation procedure follows the principles of the Administrative Procedure Act (434/2003). These principles determine, among other matters, the grounds for good administration and for disqualification.
The allegation regarding RCR misconduct and the decisions related to this allegation during the RCR process are to be reported to TENK, so that it can monitor compliance to the guidelines and the state of research integrity in Finland. Although all documents sent to the authorities or produced by them are generally public in accordance with The Act on Openness of Government Activities (621/1999), the research organisation is, when sending the documents to TENK, obliged to take into account the secrecy obligations that apply to the information included in the documents.
For joint international projects that include researchers working in Finnish research communities, in special cases, the investigation does not have to adhere to the Finnish guidelines, but may be conducted according to the guidelines used by the foreign organisation in charge of the project. The Finnish party participating in the project is obliged to contribute to the appropriate investigation of the alleged RCR violation. Additional information on applying the RCR instructions can be obtained from the Secretary General of TENK (See Contact)
A party dissatisfied with the rector’s decision, with the procedures adopted in the preliminary inquiry, in the investigation proper or with the final report, may request a statement from TENK within six months of the date of notification.
1. The allegation of a violation of the responsible conduct of research must be communicated in writing to the rector or to another decision-maker in a similar position (hereafter the rector). This allegation must be submitted to the organisation in which the alleged misconduct has occurred or is presumed to occur. This notification must specify the type of the alleged violation of responsible conduct of research, as well as the grounds for the allegation. This allegation cannot be made anonymously. The rector can also initiate an investigation of allegations that have come to his/her attention from other channels. Furthermore, the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity can also recommend an investigation if it has reason to suspect misconduct within the organisation in question.
2. The rector decides whether to initiate a preliminary inquiry. A preliminary inquiry is unnecessary when: the allegation does not constitute misconduct that falls within the scope of the RCR procedure. it becomes clear without further action that the notification is unfounded, or there is another justified reason for not proceeding, such as a preliminary inquiry that has already been intitiated by another research organisation. A reasoned decision not to initiate an inquiry must be communicated to the instigator of the allegation, to the person alleged of misconduct and to the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity. The party dissatisfied with the decision may request a statement from the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity within six months of the date of being notified of the decision (see Point 12). If a decision is made to conduct the preliminary inquiry, the instigator of the allegation, the person alleged of misconduct and the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity must be notified immediately of the inquiry and of the grounds for it.
3. The purpose of the preliminary inquiry is to initially determine the validity of the allegations of research misconduct that are stated in the notification and the evidence that has been presented to support these allegations.The following parties will need to be heard during the inquiry: The person alleged of misconduct, the instigator of the allegation and, if necessary, experts and other persons involved. The preliminary inquiry must be conducted within three months of receiving the notification, unless there are specific reasons to grant additional time for the completion of the inquiry.
4. On the basis of the preliminary inquiry, if the allegation turns out to be unfounded, the rector will make a reasoned decision to discontinue the investigation process.This decision must be communicated to the person alleged of misconduct, to the instigator of the allegation as well as to the Advisory Board on Research Integrity. This decision may also be made public if so requested by the person alleged of misconduct or if the publishing of it is otherwise deemed necessary. This decision must state that any party dissatisfied with the decision can request a statement from the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity within six months of being notified of the decision (see Point 12). The rector will decide on the potential consequences should the allegations regarding the violation of the RCR be unfounded or malicious.
5. If after the preliminary inquiry, there is still reason to suspect disregard of the responsible conduct of research or research misconduct, the rector must initiate the investigation proper. Conducting this investigation is unnecessary when the inquiry has revealed that a violation of the RCR has occurred, the person alleged of misconduct agrees with the results of the preliminary inquiry, and there is otherwise no other specific reason to conduct the investigation. In this case, the rector will make the decision based on the preliminary inquiry, as stipulated in Point 9. An investigation proper is, however, warranted if the preliminary inquiry has revealed indications of wider-ranging misconduct than was initially suspected.
6. For the investigation proper, the rector will establish an investigation committee and invite the expert members to join, one of whom will be appointed as chair of the committee. The investigation committee must have the necessary expertise in the academic discipline in question, as well as the legal or other expertise required. At least two members of the committee must be external to the organisation conducting the investigation. The appointment of the investigation committee and its activities must be in accordance with the Finnish Administrative Law and its stipulations about conflict of interest. The parties concerned and the Advisory Board on Research Integrity must be notified about the initiation of the investigation proper.
7. The investigation needs to be conducted with expediency. Each phase, such as the hearing of the different parties, must be carefully documented. If the investigation committee has not completed the investigation within six months of it being established, it must submit a report concerning the delay to the rector, who will then make a decision regarding the additional time required.
8. The investigation committee is to submit a final report on its work. This report needs to contain:
a. An account of the events prior to establishing the investigation committee, such as an account of the research or the activities alleged to represent misconduct, as well as the evidence for the allegation
b. An account of the investigation committee’s tasks and activities and of the hearing of the parties
c. A reasoned assessment of the investigation committee to determine whether the suspected activity in each specific allegation in the written notification constitutes a violation against or disregard towards the responsible conduct of research. If a violation has been uncovered, a reasoned assessment needs to be included concerning the nature of the violation towards the responsible conduct of research as well as a reasoned assessment concerning the severity of the violation and its frequency of occurrence
d. When necessary, a list of the research material, results and publications that, in the opinion of the investigation committee, contain a violation against or disregard towards the responsible conduct of research
e. A proposal concerning the publishing of the conclusions of the final report as stipulated in Point 9, and possible proposals on how the consequences of the violation should be rectified. The rector will ask that both the person alleged of misconduct and the instigator of the allegation submit responses to the final report.
9. The Rector will decide on whether or not a violation of the responsible conduct of research has occurred. This decision must be communicated to the person alleged of misconduct, to the instigator of the allegation as well as to the Advisory Board on Research Integrity. This decision must mention that a party dissatisfied with the decision can request a statement from The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity within six months of the decision (see Point 12). If the investigation finds that the misconduct constitutes a violation against the responsible conduct of research, measures must be taken to publish the findings of the final report in a manner deemed appropriate by the committee and when possible, at least in the publication channel where the fraudulent research findings or results based on fraudulent means have already been published. In addition, the reported violation against the responsible conduct of research can lead to other sanctions that the rector is justified or obligated to impose on the basis of, for instance, legislation pertaining to administrative, criminal, labour or contract law. If a violation of the responsible conduct of research has occurred, the sanction for that violation must be in just proportion to the severity of the violation.
10. If the investigation finds that the person alleged of misconduct has not violated the responsible conduct of research, the person alleged of misconduct and the instigator of the allegation must be notified of this decision. Furthermore, an effort must be made to publish the findings of the investigation in an appropriate publication channel if the person alleged of misconduct so desires, or if there are other compelling reasons.
11. If the person alleged of misconduct works in a research organisation other than the one in which the allegation has been handled or receives external research funding, the employer or the funding organisation must be notified of the decision.
12. The person alleged of misconduct or the instigator of the allegation can request a statement from The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity if the said party is dissatisfied with the rector’s decision, the procedures adopted in the preliminary inquiry, with the investigation proper, or with the conclusions of the final report. This request must be justified and it must address the specific questions that are the basis for the statement requested. The RCR process needs to be completed before any requests can be submitted to the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity. No statements will be issued during the interim stages. The request for a statement must be submitted within six months of the decision.
The Advisory Board must process the matter expediently, within five months of receiving the request, on the basis of the documents submitted to it. Furthermore, the Advisory Board must issue a statement addressed to the party that has instigated the process, and this statement must also be delivered to the rector and to the other parties involved.
When compiling the statement, the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity may, if needed, request a written response from the parties concerned and from the investigating organisation. The person requesting the statement is to be given an opportunity to comment on these responses. The Advisory Board's statement and the documents, including the appendices used in compiling this statement are, in principle, publicly available after the statement has been issued.
In its statement, The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity may propose that the rector conduct an additional investigation if there are well-founded reasons for this in the material provided for the preliminary inquiry, in the final report of the investigation proper, or in the information provided by an involved party in its request for a statement.
The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity may, for well-founded reasons, initiate a further investigation without a request for a statement.
The Advisory Board does not conduct the preliminary inquiry or the investigation proper and it does not arrange hearings.