Queen's Gazette, February 9, 2009
Previously, this column has discussed academic integrity (AI) in an undergraduate context, but what about with respect to the rest of the university community? Integrity issues involving graduate students and researchers can be quite different to those typically involving undergraduates. Such issues include the use of inappropriate research methods, poor data management storage, misuse of research funds, or unethical authorship/coauthorship practices, and as a result, many universities have separate policies on research integrity (or “research misconduct”).
Three core issues that commonly surface in research-integrity cases are the fabrication of data, the falsification of data, and plagiarism, and typically involve such practices as selectively excluding data from further analysis, misinterpreting data to obtain preconceived results, modifying digital images, and producing false results.
Indeed, the “big three” have been at the heart of the most spectacular research-integrity cases in recent times. For example, individual cases involving the fabrication and falsification of data regarding the creation of human embryonic stem cells through cloning, the creation of an organic transistor (heralded at the time as a potential Nobel-prize-winning breakthrough), and the metabolic effects of nutrition and ageing to obtain more than $3 million in research grant funds have made global headlines, brought shame to prestigious universities, and have severely harmed the credibility of national research agendas. Charges of plagiarism have also brought down the most senior university administrators; the vice-chancellor of one Australian university was forced to resign after it was revealed that passages in at least three of his books published 20 years earlier had been plagiarized.
In an era of increasing accountability and reduced resources, the research community has come together to try to develop proactive and meaningful measures to address this important topic. In Canadian universities, for example, the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary holds a Research Integrity Day and all graduate students at Memorial University must complete the Graduate Research Integrity Program. The national granting councils, Canadian Institute of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council have also issued a tri-council policy statement on integrity in research and scholarship, and the Canadian government recently formed the Canadian Research Integrity Committee to review research- integrity policies around the world.
Moreover, the First World Conference on Research Integrity was convened in 2007 by the European Science Foundation to bring together researchers, administrators, government officials, and journal editors from some of the most prestigious journals such as Nature and Science to address ways of fostering responsible research.
It is understandable why academic integrity and research integrity are often thought of as being somewhat distinct. Academic integrity (AI) is commonly considered in the context of undergraduate education. There are good reasons for this; most students at our universities are undergraduates and most of our teaching is done in this environment. This distinction becomes blurred, however, when considering the three core issues mentioned above – fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. Most would agree that these three issues also play a central role in the AI education of our undergraduates. The line becomes even more ambiguous because undergraduates conduct research too – for theses and projects.
In a previous article, I mentioned that AI is at the heart of the university’s mission, pertaining directly to the quality and reputation of the entire university and providing a common foundation upon which our teaching and research efforts are built. Supporting this notion, Queen’s Senate adopted an Academic Integrity Policy Statement in 2006 which states that academic integrity is constituted by the five core fundamental values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility – values that apply equally well in both the teaching and research environments. As such, academic integrity truly encompasses a much broader scope than just undergraduate education and is also applicable to the scholarly endeavours of graduate students, research staff, and faculty members. That is, the principles of academic integrity should apply to all members of the university community.
At Queen’s, initiatives are being developed to foster AI in research, including a tutorial for graduate students and a new, innovative policy on research integrity.
Growing interest in this topic from various internal and external stakeholders including the government, industry, publishers, and the public can only serve to further promote best practices and encourage productive discussion in this keystone of our core academic mission.
Jim Lee is the Academic Integrity Advisor to the Vice-Principal (Academic).