Authorship rights to a researcher who worked in a research group and was dismissed from a company, and the failure to start a preliminary investigation

Researcher A made a written report to a university on allegations of misconduct on responsible conduct of research in the field of natural sciences. According to the report, professor B did not take researcher A’s part in the authorship into account in the editing or publishing of the research materials of the research group led by professor B. Professor B answered this by saying that researcher A had worked as an employee of company X managed by professor B, not as an academic member of his/her research group. Furthermore, researcher A had been dismissed from business X three years prior to the year when the publications stated in the report were released.

TENK recognised in its first statement that the university made a procedural error when it did not provide an opportunity for researcher A to give a response to professor B’s statement. Because of this, the matter was handed back to the university. The university made a new decision on the matter after researcher A and other parties had been heard. According to this, the case showed no need to start up a preliminary investigation in accordance with the process concerning RCR violations.

Researcher A was not satisfied with the university’s aforementioned decision and requested a statement from TENK on if a preliminary investigation would have had to be done on the basis of evidence presented by researcher A and if researcher A’s request for a preliminary investigation at the university was handled appropriately. After this, TENK requested an evaluation from the university on what researcher A’s part was in the authorship in the publications and research activities which researcher A referred to in the request for a statement. TENK also stated in the request for a response, that the employment of the party who put forth the RCR allegation was of no significance in regard to authorship or the RCR process.

According to the university, the case indisputably recognised that the microscope images taken by researcher A were taken at least three years prior to the publication of the articles. The articles were worked on after the researcher was dismissed from the services of company X. The university also refers to the Vancouver Protocol which concerns authorship in biomedical publications.

In its statement, TENK states that in the allegation of misconduct put forth and in later letters, researcher A did not concretely, and on the argument of the claims made, highlight the idea of what his/her exact contribution to the disputed publications was. Because of this, and on the basis of the investigation it acquired in the case, the university had the right to not begin a preliminary investigation within the guidelines of conduct concerning the investigation of RCR violations. The party who made the report has some responsibility to sort out the matter which cannot be turned over to the university. Although the university, in making its decision on the matter, had acted in accordance with the guidelines, the opposite solution as well could have been justified. Consequently, TENK’s conclusion in its second statement was that the university had acted in accordance with the RCR guidelines in deciding that a preliminary investigation would not be started.

In addition, TENK considers it important that the threshold to starting a preliminary investigation be kept low. Carrying out a preliminary investigation is important in regard to the legal security of the parties involved and also in regard to how fair the party making out the report finds the investigation methods to be. TENK also emphasises that the kind of position, be it as an employee or student, the researcher has in a research project is of no significance when evaluating if the researcher should be noted as an author in the publication. The issue of authorship depends exclusively on what kind of intellectual contribution the researcher has made to producing new information presented in the research. Socalled author’s honour, the right to become recognised as an author as long as there is a sufficient amount of contribution to the research, cannot be relinquished in an employment or other contract.