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Define the global and financial impact of research misconduct

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DEFORM (Define the global and financial impact of research misconduct)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2018-07-31

In a context of tight funding, there is an increasing “impatience" of innovation financiers towards funded research projects, which creates significant pressure on research operators and can lead to questionable if not criminal practices. The existence of such problems has an impact and leaves traces, either structural: what is the becoming of research players convicted or even only suspected of such acts ; sociological : how can society as a whole maintain confidence in a sector more and more suspected of treachery and how is this reflected in policy as a whole, economic : what is the full cost of such practices in terms of lost training, lost confidence, ect... or damages spending, and how can the loss of opportunity be evaluated. In this context, the objectives of the project are threefold: 1 - analyse the occurrence of research misconduct (RM) through historical case studies and use these case studies to provide a wide definition of RM, and response analysis to RM : has one type of misconduct always results in the same consequences and impact? 2 - provide a financial model of RM related risks/loss of opportunity to devise the full costs of such attitudes, 3 - propose a methodology and guidelines for anticipating/prevent the appearance of this type of practices, and consider ways to mitigated the impacts on the research community; bearing in mind (and thus mitigating) the fact that tools minimizing RM impact could have dangerous side effects such as an increase in malpractices due to a biased perception of the risks taken.
The work focused both on state of the art project implementation (operational issues) and evidently research activities.Project governance included : (a) the implementation of the support tools and activities such as the project Knowledge management framework (virtual office, project intranet website, data management at project level, social media accounts, explanation videos...) the completion of the extranet web site, the building of the data management plan; (b) the fulfillment of project internal exchanges and governance policies (Project charter, enforcement of the ethics task force); (c) the procurement and delivery of needed authorisations in relation data treatment, (d) the organisation of three project events (kick-off meeting, first workshop and Intermediary general assembly (IGA)) and finally (e) a set of project related reports (Kick off meeting report, IGA minutes, workshop report). Research wise, DEFORM focused on the following: (a) the design of the data sets/data bases (collection, processing, structuring…), (b) critical and contextualized analysis of definitions of research misconduct (RM) through a literature and regulation review (c) scientometric analysis of scientific publications in peer reviewed journals through various bibliographic databases/discourse analysis (d) the development and deployment of an on-line questionnaire measuring the extent, types, causes and understanding of RM among researchers and institutional responses to such cases, (e) The extraction of numerical models (Discovery, Occurrence, Visibility ratios, company level costs model).
Concerning the definition, DEFORM made visible its involvedness. Official, regulatory definitions, even those widely referenced and implemented are not uncontested and carry different implications for identification and treatment of research misconduct (RM) cases. It is suggested that regulatory definitions must allow for identification of specific cases, provide guidelines for treatment and be flexible enough for identification and treatment of cases outside rigid perimeters. Given their implications for science and society, we suggest that it is best if RM regulatory definitions follow a principles-based, human rights approach. Through extended literature review, scientometric and discourse analysis, the UoC found that RM issues are of extended and increasing interest for scientists as the themes identified, topics addressed, causes and solutions suggested in large numbers of peer reviewed publications document. The extent and potential causality of the phenomenon and researchers’ actual engagement and experiences of RM (including questionable research practices) are investigated through the on-line questionnaire developed by the UoC team. Concerning responses to RM there is a need to study points of congruence and divergence between scientists and society at large as to what constitutes RM, how it should be dealt with and whether any aspects of the phenomenon are only warranted for peer responses.
Regarding motivation for RM the “promise tension” concept was introduced. The INSEEC team suggested that the source of misconduct relates to the tension between a research results promise (value creation promise) and the difficulty to reach this promise. Although not an excuse for misconduct it is suggested that the higher the difficulty to deliver, the higher the probability of misconduct to occur. Faced with “promise tension” research projects owners/sponsors have three pathways to choose from: (1) Retract and restart, (2) Redesign/end the research project, (3) Fraud. In the latter choice, institutional environments precluding alternate paths maybe a contributing factor. Misconduct cases and symptoms are, thus, to be considered globally, looking at research projects within their environment and planned use, and not with a unique focus on the direct perpetrator (the researcher).
Further, three numerical models (the Discovery Ratio (Dr), Occurrence(Or) and Visibility ratio (Vr)) were computed. The Or aims at forecasting potential occurrence of RM/fraud within a pool of research projects. To do so, INSEEC team computed the probability of misconduct within a global related infringement population (using a computed analogy between occupational crime and RM). The Dr covers the risk of being discovered within this occurrence perimeter. Finally, the Vr aims at computing the odd of a wrongdoer becoming visible, increasing thus, the potential of sanction implementation with further implications in increased financial interest in best practices. The concepts of severity and weighting as theorised by actuaries, were brought into the analysis in order to distinguish between different institutional responses. These are further project deliverables.
At this stage, DEFORM concludes that the structural, regulatory and institutional framework is potentially inadequately responding to RM. Improvements are studied which will show how the cost (including sanctions) of RM by all. This way, new practices may be realized moving away from stigmatizing isolated, individual researchers and focusing on the ‘science enterprise’ or else hold research and science accountable for not fulfilling their promises through societal and institutional pressures.
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