Manual for Research and Publication Ethics in Science and Engineering

Cho Eun Hee, Kim Young-Mog, Park Kibeom, Son Wha-Chul, Yoon Tae-Woong, Lim Jeong Mook, Hwang Eun Seong
ISBN-13: 978-89-5938-345-0-93190
Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies
This is an open-access publication distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Principles and Procedures of Investigating Research Misconduct

Principles and Procedures of Investigating Research Misconduct

I. Principles of Investigating Research Misconduct

1. Scope of application

When suspicion of research misconduct arises, an investigation process will be carried out according to the code of research ethics of a given research institute. Government-funded projects will have to comply with the principles articulated by the decree of the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning entitled “Regulations on the Management of National Research and Development Projects” (hereafter, the Decree) or ordinance of the Ministry of Education entitled “Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics” (hereafter, the Ordinance).

Rules of research ethics Codes of the relevant research institute Decree of the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning Ordinance of the Ministry of Education
Legal basis
  • Research institutes

  • Framework Act of Science and Technology

  • Regulations on the Management of National Research and Development Projects

  • Sciences Promotion Act

  • Enforcement Decree of the Sciences Promotion Act

Scope of application
  • Research by a researcher affiliated with the institute

  • Includes dissertations, school research funds, and research funded by corporations

  • National research and development projects prescribed by the Framework Act of Science and Technology

  • Projects subsidized by the Sciences Promotion Act

  • Research and development projects under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education

After the 2007 research fraud incident involving Hwang Woo-suk, the government announced a set of regulations entitled “Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics.” This was previously an ordinance of the former Ministry of Science and Technology, but is currently a decree of the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning. Moreover, the 2011 Sciences Promotion Act and the Enforcement Decree of the same act included related articles on research ethics. An ordinance of the Ministry of Education was enacted in order to implement those articles as administrative rules.

※ An ordinance is an administrative rule applied only within a specific department, whereas a decree is applied across all departments. Therefore, a decree is the more general regulation.

Dominant laws regarding research ethics

Framework Act on Science and Technology

Article 11 (Promotion of National Research and Development Projects)

  • The Government shall promote national research and development projects transparently and fairly and manage them efficiently, and determine the matters falling under any of the following subparagraphs in order to closely link the national research and development projects promoted by respective ministries:

    • 4 Matters on the basis of research performance, such as security, information management, performance management, securing of research ethics, etc. of the national research and development projects;

Sciences Promotion Act

Article 15 (Ensuring Research Ethics)

  • The Minister of Education, Science and Technology shall formulate and promote policies to ensure research ethics, such as the establishment of Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (hereinafter referred to as “guidelines on research ethics” so as to prevent fraudulent research activities of researchers, which obstruct promotion of sciences, and create a sound environment for academic research.

  • The Minister of Education, Science and Technology may fully or partially subsidize expenses necessary for activities of colleges, etc. so as to efficiently promote policies to ensure research ethics under paragraph 1.

  • Colleges, etc. that have received support related to project funds from the Minister of Education, Science and Technology shall establish and implement their own regulations on research ethics to prevent and verify fraudulent research activities in accordance with guidelines on research ethics, and take other necessary measures.

  • Matters necessary for establishing guidelines on research ethics under paragraph 1, the Government's subsidization under paragraph 2 and measures taken by colleges, etc. pursuant to paragraph 3 shall be prescribed by Presidential Decree.

  • Articles 30 and 31 of the presidential decree “Regulations on the Management of National Research and Development Projects” present the definition of research misconduct, the obligation to implement self-regulatatory polices regarding research ethics and disciplinary measures for any violation of research ethics. The principles and process of verifying research integrity are prescribed in detail in the Decree of the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning.

  • The Enforcement Decree of the Sciences Promotion Act also articulates the obligation to develop a policy of self-regulation regarding research ethics and the obligations of research institutions. The principles and process of verifying research integrity are prescribed in detail in the Ordinance of the Ministry of Education.

The processes of investigating research misconduct outlined by the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning (MSIP) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) are virtually identical. The majority of research institutes have also enacted their own codes based on the regulations in the Ordinance of the former Ministry of Science and Technology. Therefore, aside from small details (e.g., the proportion of outsiders to include when forming an investigation committee), there is no room for confusion when implementing the regulations.

  • However, when an actual investigation takes place at a research institute, steps must be taken after identifying which governmental department the research development project was a part of.

  • The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Rural Development Administration, and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy each enact separate administrative rules regarding research ethics for national research and development projects under their supervision. Therefore, when an actual case arises, it is necessary to confirm the regulations pertaining to the relevant research project.

2. Scope of investigation

The investigation of research misconduct will be handled by the research institute where the relevant research was conducted.

Regulations on Management, Etc of National Research and Development Projects (Presidential Decree)

Article 31 (Investigation of and Measures for Research Misconduct)

  • The head of a research institute that performs a research and development task shall investigate acts suspected of research misconduct in accordance with investigation procedures prescribed in internal regulations referred to in paragraph 1 and report the outcomes thereof to the head of the central administrative agency.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (ordinance of the MoE)

Article 13 (Subjects Responsible for the Investigation of Research Misconduct)

  • The responsibility for the investigation of research misconduct lies with the research institute where the relevant research was conducted.

  • The Decree of the MSIP defines the term “research institute” in Article 2 of the General Provisions section. It includes organizations such as research management institutes, collaborative research institutes, joint research institutes, and endowed research institutes. All of these organizations carry out national research and development projects through contracts with the central administrative agency.

In cases where suspicion of research misconduct arises during the evaluation of a national research and development project, the research institute must carry out the first investigation. The funding agency will then take on the secondary role of reviewing the results of the first investigation.

  • In cases where suspicion of research misconduct arises during the evaluation of the final report, the funding agency should only decide whether the project succeeded or failed. Then, after reviewing the results of the research institute's verdict on the research misconduct in question, it must proceed with follow-up measures.

※ Currently, the codes of research ethics at the majority of funding agencies do not clearly define the roles and responsibilities for these matters. Improvement in this regard is urgently needed.

In cases where the researcher has become affiliated with another institution after completing the research project in question, the previous institution must investigate the misconduct and then notify the current institute of the results. Even in cases where the former institution faces challenges in carrying out the investigation due to geographical or other factors, the responsibility lies with the former institution. Moreover, even if the relevant researcher declines to cooperate with the investigation, the former institution must consider all related matters, make an autonomous decision, and then notify the current institution of the results.

In cases where the researcher has become affiliated with another institution during the course of a research project, it may be difficult to determine where the research was conducted. Most research misconduct appears in the final results of the research, such as in dissertations, reports, and other published materials. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider the institution with which the researcher was affiliated when the final results of the research were presented to be the institution where the research was conducted.

In cases where two or more institutions participated in a project, in principle, a separate investigation should be performed at each institution. However, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion, it is possible for the institutions in question to consult with each other and form a joint investigation committee.

In the following instances, it is possible to request that an investigation be performed by an umbrella organization, such as the funding agency.

Regulations on Management, Etc of National Research and Development Projects (Presidential Decree)

Article 31 (Investigation of and Measures for Research Misconduct)

  • Provided, That when the head of a research institute that performs a research and development task requests the head of a professional agency to conduct an investigation on behalf of him/her due to difficulty, etc. of securing an investigation expert, the head of the professional agency shall conduct the investigation in accordance with investigation procedures prescribed in internal regulations referred to in paragraph 1 and inform the outcomes thereof to the head of the central administrative agency and the head of the research institute that performs the research and development task.

Regulations on the Management of National Research and Development Projects (Decree of MSIP)

Article 17 (Requesting a Funding Agency to Conduct an Investigation) “Difficulty of obtaining an expert to lead the investigation” under Article 31 2 is applicable in the following cases:

  1. In cases where self-investigation is challenging due to difficulty of securing an expert to lead the investigation;

  2. In cases where it is determined that carrying out an impartial and reasonable investigation is unlikely;

  3. In cases where the investigation of research misconduct involves two or more research institutes and it does not proceed smoothly.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (Ordinance of MoE)

Article 13 (Subjects Responsible for the Investigation of Research Misconduct)

  • A research institute may ask the head of a funding agency to carry out an investigation on its behalf for the following cases, notwithstanding paragraph 1. A head of a funding agency who receives such a request shall comply, unless there is one of the following special reasons not to do so.

    1. In cases where self-investigation is challenging due to difficulty of securing an expert to lead the investigation;

    2. In cases where it is determined that carring out an impartial and reasonable investigation is unlikely;

    3. In cases where the investigation of research misconduct involves two or more research institutes and it does not proceed smoothly.

3. Time limitations for investigation

The previous “Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics” (Ordinance of the former Ministry of Science and Technology) mandated that “misconduct that occurred five years before the reported date⋯ shall not be handled.” However, the amended 2011 ordinance and the current decree of the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning have deleted all such clauses. Therefore, misconduct in all past research can be subject to investigation.

  • Currently, the codes of research ethics at the majority of research institutes still retain the rule prescribing a limitation of five years, in accordance with the previous ordinance. This prescription may be applied to dissertations or student research, but for national research and development projects or cases in which the research was subsidized by supporting organizations, all past research is subject to investigation.

The rules regarding research ethics has no relation to the regulations pertaining to disciplinary measures against faculty. Even if a time limitation for disciplinary measures expires, research integrity must be verified.

4. Burden of proof

The research institute and investigation committee have the burden to prove the allegations of misconduct, which means that it is not the respondent who has to prove his or her freedom from suspicion, but it is the investigation committee who has the responsibility of proving the allegations of misconduct of the respondent; the respondent, nevertheless, has the burden of going forward with and of proving any affirmative defenses raised, by a preponderance of the evidence.

Due to the inherent characteristics of the research process, it is very difficult for the investigation committee to become aware of the specific circumstances of the alleged research without the respondent's cooperation. Therefore, if the respondent does not actively cooperate, the committee must regard that as proof of misconduct. For instance, if a suspicion of fabrication arises and the respondent refuses to provide the original material, the investigation committee must interpret this to mean that there is, in fact, no original material.

  • A criminal trial requires hard evidence that leaves no room for reasonable doubt, but in a civil trial, when both sides present conflicting evidence, the more credible side is chosen. This is called the “preponderance of the evidence” principle, and this principle is applied in investigating cases of research misconduct case. Following the “preponderance of the evidence” rule, if a respondent does not produce exculpatory evidence to the research institute that raised the allegation, then this omission is accepted as evidence that validates the suspicion of misconduct.

  • The Civil Procedure Act of South Korea stipulates, “When a party fails to comply with the order [to submit documents], the court may admit that the allegations of the other party as to the entries in such document prove true. (Article 349)” and “When a party has, on purpose to prevent any use by the other party of the document which he is ordered to submit, destroyed the document or made it unusable, the court may admit that the allegations of the other party as to the entries in such document prove true. (Article 350)”

5. Investigation organizations

According to the Decree of the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning and the Ordinance of the Ministry of Education, during the preliminary inquiry stage, the institution in question may autonomously form an investigation committee. During the main investigation stage, an investigative body in the form of a committee must be assembled, and must include outsiders and experts in the relevant field of research.

  • Decree of the MSIP: A committee of five to nine members.

Regulations on the Management of National Research and Development Projects (Decree of MSIP)

Article 10 (The Composition and Authority of an Investigation Committee)

  • An investigation committee shall be comprised of five to nine members, including a chairman and outside experts.

  • If any of the following applies, a person must not become a member of an investigation committee:

    1. A person who, pursuant to Article 777 of the Civil Act, was or is a relative of the whistleblower or the repondent;

    2. A person who was or is a teacher or a student of the whistleblower or the respondent;

    3. A person who concerned that he or she may harm the impartiality of the investigation due to a conflict of interest with the subject of the investigation or other reasons.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (Ordinance of the MoE)

Article 18 (The Composition of an Investigation Committee)

  • The head of the relevant institution shall convene an investigation committee of more than five members, including one chairman, for the main investigation: Provided, That the head may establish and manage another form of investigative organization considering the institution's state of affairs, the scope and range of the research misconduct, or other factors.

  • When assembling an investigation committee or an investigative organization as described in paragraph 1, outsiders, who are experts in the relevant field of research and/or have no affiliation with the relevant research institute, shall be included in the following proportions:

    1. More than 50% shall be experts in the relevant field of research

    2. More than 30% shall be outsiders who are not affiliated with the relevant research institute

Article 19 (Exclusion, Recusal, or Evasion of an Investigation Committee Member)

  • One cannot become an investigation committee member for a given case if any of the following apply:

    1. A person who, pursuant to Article 777 of the Civil Act, was or is a relative of the whistleblower or the respondent;

    2. A person who was or is a teacher or a student of the whistleblower or the respondent, or a person who was involved in the same project with the whistleblower or with the respondent;

    3. Any other person who concerned that he or she may harm the impartiality of the investigation.

  • Ordinance of the MoE: A committee of more than five members, of whom more than 30% must be outsiders and more than 50% must be experts in the given field of research.

After an investigation committee is formed, its independence must be strictly maintained. The committee must be free of any external interventions or instructions.The code of the State Science and Technology Commission and the Ordinance of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology state that the following persons must be excluded from being members of an investigation committee: relatives according to civil law, teachers or students, and co-researchers.

  • While it is one of the disqualifications from joining an investigation committee, excluding those who “jointly conducted the research” is a vague criterion, since it does not delineate whether “research” here means a project, a jointly written dissertation, or cooperative research in general. The clause, “conflict of interests with the subject of the investigation,” is also a bit ambiguous.

Considering the size of South Korea's pool of experts, it is more important to manage conflict of interests with the respondent instead of avoiding it entirely. In addition, opportunities for recusal must be granted to whistleblowers and all statements and opinions of the members of the investigation committee made during the investigation must be recorded.

6. Protecting the rights of whistleblowers and respondents

The opportunities and rights to state an opinion, raise an objection, and present a defense should be guaranteed equally to whistleblowers and respondents. The term “equally” here does not mean granting equal amounts of time for speaking. It means that when conflicting testimonies are given, the investigation committee must not refer to just one side of the argument but must inform the other side and grant the other side the opportunity to give a counter-statement and a defense.

Since these principles were written with the assumption that the whistleblower is an individual, they may be flexibly applied in the following cases: when research misconduct is reported to a research institute after being confirmed at a conference or in a journal, when allegations of misconduct are raised via the internet or the media, when a specific whistleblower cannot be determined, and when the whistleblower is not an individual but an organization, such as a committee.

In reality, protection for whistleblowers is limited since no higher law establishes their protection. However, the investigating agency must strictly maintain the confidentiality of the whistleblower's identity and must be particularly mindful of any disadvantages or discrimination against internal whistleblowers.

Regulations on the Management of National Research and Development Projects (Decree of MSIP)

Article 13 (Protection of the Rights of Whistleblowers and Subjects of Investigation)

The protection of the rights of whistleblowers and subjects of investigation under Article 5 (5) shall be as follows:

  1. The investigation agency shall be careful not to infringe upon the rights or honor of the subject of investigation during the investigation process;

  2. The head of the investigation agency shall protect the whistleblower from any disadvantages in status or any discrimination in working conditions, and shall keep the whistleblower's identity from being exposed;

  3. The receipt of a report on research misconduct and details of the investigation shall not be disclosed to the public until the results of the investigation are confirmed: Provided, That cases pursuant to Article 15 are exempt.

  4. The subject of the investigation may ask the investigating agency to inform them of the investigative procedures and schedules, and the head of the relevant agency shall comply in good faith;

  5. The whistleblower may ask the agency that received their report or the investigating agency to inform them of the investigative procedures and schedules, and the head of the relevant agency shall comply in good faith.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (Ordinance of the MoE)

Article 11 (Protection of Whistleblower Rights)

  • The term “whistleblower” means someone who recognizes an instance of research misconduct and informs the related evidence to the relevant research institute, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, or a funding agency.

  • A report can be given in an oral statement, in writing, or via a telephone call or email, and as a rule, shall be given under an actual name: Provided, That in cases where evidence containing the name of the research project, title of the dissertation, or detailed proof of the research misconduct is received in writing or email, the research institute or funding agency may process an anonymous report in accordance with the rules of a report given under an actual name.

  • The Minister of Education, Science, and Technology and the heads of the research institute or the funding agency shall protect the whistleblower from any disadvantages in status or any discrimination in working conditions due to making a report of research misconduct.

  • Details about the identity of the whistleblower are not subject to disclosure.

  • In cases where, pursuant to paragraph 3, the whistleblower has experienced any disadvantages, been discriminated against, or had his/her identity exposed, the relevant institute shall take responsibility.

  • A whistleblower may ask the agency that received the report or the investigating agency to inform them of the procedures and schedules of the investigation after the research misconduct is reported, and the head of the respective agency shall comply in good faith.

  • A whistleblower who knowingly reports a false case is not subject to protection.

A respondent is not limited to the person who was reported. Participants in the relevant research or anyone suspected of additional charges during the investigation of misconduct may be added to the list.

A respondent must be presumed to be innocent until the results of the investigation are confirmed. The investigation agency has the obligation to try their best to ensure that no harm is inflicted on the respondent's integrity or rights.

During the investigation, the investigation committee may require the respondent to attend inquiries or hand in materials, but has no legal authority to enforce these actions. However, failure to cooperate with the investigation must be deemed as proof of misconduct.

When a committee takes further action to seize documents or restrict access to research labs, it must thoroughly review whether such measures conflict with laws regarding a person's fundamental rights, and only carry out such actions sparingly.

In cases where a committee collects materials such as research reports or project proposals pertaining to previous research for evidence, it must thoroughly review whether doing so conflicts with laws regarding the disclosure of information.

II. Procedures for Investigating Research Misconduct

1. The basic procedures for investigation

After an allegation of research misconduct arises, the investigative process involves a preliminary inquiry, a main investigation, and adjudication. In principle, the preliminary inquiry, completion of the final investigation, and notification of the results of the investigation must all be carried out within six months.

If, during the actual investigation, it is difficult to complete all of the procedures within six months for any reason, the term may be extended as appropriate.

Regulations on the Management, Etc of National Research and Development Projects (Decree of MSIP)

Article 7 (Investigative Procedures and Period for Research Misconduct)

  • The investigative procedures, pursuant to Article 5 (3), shall be carried out through a preliminary inquiry,a main investigation, and notification of the results to the whistleblower and the subject of investigation: Provided, That in cases where the head of the investigation agency (hereinafter, the funding agency or research institute subject to the investigation) perceives sufficient evidence of research misconduct, he/she may omit the preliminary inquiry, and in cases where the subject of the investigation acknowledges all research misconduct during the preliminary inquiry and the facts are confirmed, the head of the investigation agency shall not carry out the main investigation.

  • The investigation period, pursuant to Article 5 (3), shall last no more than six months: Provided, That in cases where the head of the investigation agency faces difficulties in completing the investigation in the given time frame, he/she may extend the period of the investigation after notifying the whistleblower and the subject of the investigation of the reason for doing so.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (Ordinance of the MoE)

Article 15 (Investigative Procedures for Research Misconduct)

  • When the head of a funding agency or research institute wishes to investigate research misconduct, he/she must go through the steps of a preliminary inquiry, a main investigation, and adjudication.

  • The head shall form an investigation committee to carry out the preliminary inquiry and main investigation, and, if necessary, may add steps other than the ones described in paragraph 1.

  • The head of the relevant agency shall launch the main investigation without performing the preliminary inquiry if he/she perceives sufficient evidence regarding research misconduct.

Article 21 (Adjudication)

  • The entire investigation, after the beginning of the preliminary inquiry to the adjudication, shall conclude within six months: Provided, That in cases where the relevant agency faces difficulties in completing the investigation in the given time frame, he/she may extend the investigation period after notifying the agency from whom the allegation was transferred and the subject of the investigation of the reason for doing so.

2. Preliminary inquiry

The preliminary inquiry is the process of determining whether a main investigation is needed to investigate an allegation of misconduct, and must begin within 30 days of the date of receiving an allegation. The research institute may autonomously determine the technique for executing the preliminary inquiry.

The preliminary inquiry is not required under all circumstances. In cases where there is sufficient suspicion of misconduct, the institute may begin the process with the main investigation.

  • The purpose of the preliminary inquiry is to help the main investigation, which involves a significant administrative burden, proceed efficiently. Therefore, conclusions can be drawn from a preliminary inquiry alone, without a main investigation, in the following cases: if the facts of the matter are evident, if the respondent acknowledges all accusations, if the report of misconduct was inaccurate, or if the misconduct was so minor that it does not require investigation.

Regulations on the Managementof National Research and Development Projects (Decree of MSIP)

Article 8 (Preliminary Inquiry)

  • A preliminary inquiry, pursuant to Article 7 (1) (hereinafter referred to as “preliminary inquiry”), determines whether a main investigation will be carried out regarding the allegations of research misconduct (hereinafter referred to as “main investigation”) and the head of the investigation agency determines what form the committee in charge of the preliminary inquiry will take.

  • In cases where an investigation follows an allegation, the preliminary inquiry must begin within 30 days of the date of receiving the report.

  • Even if an investigation committee, pursuant to Article 10 (1), has not yet been formed, in cases where the head of the investigating agency deems that there is a possibility of the evidence being significantly damaged or destroyed, he/she may take measures to preserve the evidence pursuant to paragraph 6 of the same article.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (Ordinance of the MoE)

Article 16 (Preliminary Inquiry)

  • A preliminary inquiry is the process of determining whether to carry out a main investigation of the allegations of misconduct, and must begin within 30 days of the date of receiving a report. The head of the investigation agency chooses what form the committeein charge of the preliminary inquiry will take.

  • The head of the investigating agency may make an adjudication without carrying out the main investigation if the respondent acknowledges all facts of the research misconduct.

  • In cases where the head of the investigating agency deems that there is a possibility of of the evidence being significantly damaged or destroyed, he/she may take measures to preserve the evidence pursuant to Article 20 (2), even if an investigation committee has not yet been formed.

  • The head of the investigating agency shall notify the whistleblower of the results of the preliminary inquiry in written form within 10 days of the completion of the preliminary inquiry, and if he/she has decided not to carry out a main investigation, shall include a specific reason for doing so: Provided, That in cases involving an anonymous report, he/she does not have to do so.

A preliminary inquiry involves two components: the process of collecting basic information and affirming the facts before carrying out the main investigation, and the process of excluding cases that involve unreliable or insignificant accusations and therefore do not require a main investigation. Therefore, it is advisable that the preliminary inquiry should be carried out quickly, with the main goal of judging whether an allegation as valid. If so, the contents of the allegation should be evaluated in the main investigation.

  • In the preliminary inquiry stage, the examiner may request an interview with the respondent and request additional materials or explanation from the whistleblower. The staff must retain records of all interviews or additional requests.

  • For plagiarism or duplicate publication cases, it helps the main investigation greatly if the duplicated sections from the related dissertations or reports are checked and then organized during the preliminary inquiry stage.

The results of the preliminary inquiry must be reported to the whistleblower and, in cases where the research was funded by external sources, to the funding agency as well.

The following is the standard procedure that should be taken after the allegation and through the preliminary inquiry:

Fig. 1

Procedures for the preliminary inquiry1[1]

ch4f1

The roles of each agent during the preliminary inquiry are as follows:

The roles of each agent during the preliminary inquiry2[2]

Allegation Registration Process

  • The person who receives an allegation must transfer materials related to the allegation and the whistleblower to the person in charge of the preliminary inquiry. The person receiving the allegation needs to determine how he or she will contact the whistleblower in the future. If the whistleblower does not want to be contacted in the future, the person receiving the allegation should verify this beforehand, if possible.

Preliminary Execution of the Inquiry

  • Ascertain whether or not the basic facts are true.

    • For plagiarism cases, procure and compare the reported text, dissertations, or reports.

  • Ascertain the category of misconduct.

    • Ascertain whether or not the five-year term of limitations has elapsed (applicable if an institution's internal code has such a clause)

    • Ascertain the respondent's affiliation and his or her institutional affiliation during the time of research.

    • Ascertain whether the respondent participated in a national research and development project and review if he or she is subject to be reported to a research funding agency.

  • Ascertain whether immediate measures are needed, such as pressing charges or suspending research.

    • Not applicable to plagiarism and other simple cases; immediate measures should be applied with restraint.

  • If necessary, carry out an inquiry targeted at the suspect

    • The inquiry may ask yes or no questions since the purpose is to collect basic information before the main investigation. There is no need to carry out interviews during the preliminary inquiry stage if the research institute does not have the adequate experience or capacity for such an investigation.

  • If need be, request that the whistleblower provide additional materials or explanation.

  • Determine whether or not the allegation is concrete enough to warrant a main investigation. In cases where the allegation does not fall under the category of misconduct, is too minor, or is clearly a mistake, the main investigation is not needed.

  • Write a report on the results of the preliminary inquiry and notify the research integrity committee or the department handling the preliminary inquiry results.

    • In cases where a main investigation will take place, the report on the preliminary inquiry results does not need to be formatted in a particular way, but in cases where a main investigation will not take place, the details of the allegation and the evidence behind the judgment must be delineated.

Research Integrity Committee (or the department handling the preliminary inquiry results)

  • Acknowledge the results of the preliminary inquiry and notify the parties involved (whistleblower, respondent, and research funding agency).

    • In this stage, the results of the preliminary inquiry cannot be reversed by the integrity committee.

  • Form an investigation committee if a main investigation is needed.

3. Main investigation

The purpose of the main investigation is not simply to ascertain whether misconduct took place, but to make an overall judgment after considering all factors, such as the intention and severity of the misconduct, whether it was repeated, the roles of the co-researchers, and other circumstances.

  • It is not important to simply determine the whether research misconduct took place; much more important is determining the degree of the misconduct, and how much the research departed from accepted practices of the relevant research community.

  • Even in cases with the same quantity of of plagiarism, the judgment may vary considerably according to the intention, the extent to which the plagiarism was repeated, or other factors. Such judgment is the primary goal of the main investigation.

In cases involving suspicions of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or duplication, the investigation should not be limited to the specific research targeted in the allegation, but should cover all related research that the respondent carried out in the past.

The investigative process for ascertaining the facts of plagiarism or duplication is relatively simple, but the process of investigating fabrication and falsification may require a substantial amount of time and effort.

The following is the standard procedure that should be taken after the preliminary inquiry up to the beginning of the main investigation.

Fig.2

Procedures for the main investigation3[3]

ch4f2

The roles of each agent during the main investigation4[4]

Research Integrity Committee (or related department) should:

  • Form the main investigation committee.

    • Comply with the relevant rules, such including outsiders and experts in the research field.

  • Notify the whistleblower of the list of main investigation committee members and receive any objections.

    • If contacting a whistleblower is difficult due to individual circumstances, the whistleblower is considered to have no objections.

  • Review the validity of the objections and how to respond to them.

    • Recruit a different investigation committee member if the the objection is accepted to be valid, and notify the whistleblower again. If a whistleblower repeatedly raises objections which are not accepted to be reasonable, it is acceptable not to respond to them, but the relevant records must be kept in the final report.

  • Notify the whistleblower and the respondent that the investigation has been initiated.

Main Investigation Committee

  • Conduct the main investigation.

    • Conduct the complete investigative process, ncluding collecting basic data, reviewing, interviewing, questioning, witnesses of material fact, and expert witnesses.

    • Guarantee whistleblowers and respondents the opportunity of mounting a defense.

  • Draw conclusions and write the final report.

    • The final report must, at the very least, contain the following: 1) information about the allegation; 2) a list of the instances of misconduct that were subject to investigation by the investigation committee; 3) a summary of the progress of the investigation; 4) the results of the preliminary inquiry; 5) relevant evidence or testimony by witnesses; 6) defense arguments or statements of opinion of the whistleblowers and respondents, and the investigation committee's judgment on the matter; 7) the final conclusion about the misconduct and the role of each person concerned; 8) the investigation committee's judgment on the severity, frequency, and intention of the misconduct and proposal for the appropriate level of follow-up measures based on that judgment; 9) any issues that arose during the investigation process, limitations of the findings, or suggestions; 10) a list of the investigation committee members.

    • If the decisions of the investigation committee members vary, conclusions should be drawn based on the predefined principles on voting.

  • Submit the final report to the research integrity committee.

Research Integrity Committee

  • Acknowledge the final report and notify the parties concerned, including whistleblowers, respondents, and research funding agencies.

The main investigation committee must establish standards of judgment in preparation for varying opinions among its members.

  • Reaching a consensus on whether or not misconduct took place is straightforward, but since each individual may have different opinions regarding the severity of the misconduct, a rule regarding voting (e.g., more than two thirds of the members present must approve when more than the majority is in attendance) must be established beforehand in order to minimize confusion during the investigative process.

Even if the respondent or the whistleblower does not agree with the conclusions of the investigation committee, there is no need to conduct a further investigation.

The following elements must be included in the final report:

  1. Information about the allegation or the how a suspicious act was recognized.

    • When, how, and from whom was the allegation received, and what were the details of the initial allegation?

    • If a suspicious act was recognized without being reported, through what process was it recognized and what were its details?

  2. The results of the preliminary inquiry.

    • Briefly explain the details of the preliminary inquiry and the reasons for conducting a main investigation.

    • Omit this section if a preliminary inquiry did not take place.

  3. List of the acts of misconduct subject to investigation.

    • The investigation not only includes details of the allegations, but also facts that were confirmed during the investigation process. Since a single case involves many components, the instances of misconduct investigated by the main investigation committee should be presented in a list.

  4. Progress of the investigation.

    • The progress of the preliminary inquiry after the allegation or recognition of a suspicious action, the research integrity committee, and the main investigation committee.

    • Briefly describe the details of the main investigation activities (interviews, witnesses, and expert witnesses)

    • The progress report later becomes the basis for determining the propriety of the investigation of the research institute during the review of the research funding agency's validity.

    • Records regarding the whistleblower's objections regarding investigation committee members.

  5. Relevant evidence or witness testimonies.

    • Record the necessary evidence and witness statements in accordance with the list of misconduct in paragraph 3.

  6. The details of the whistleblower's and the respondent's statements of opinion and the investigation committee's judgment on the matter.

    • Organize and respond to the details of the statement of opinion the person involved gave regarding the alleged misconduct, and describe the details of the investigation committee's judgment regarding the statement's veracity.

    • If the whistleblower or the respondent did not actively cooperate with the investigation, explain why.

  7. Expert witness's statements needed for making a decision or additional information for review.

  8. Final conclusion on the misconduct.

    • Clearly state the final conclusion regarding each article of misconduct and the roles of the persons concerned — including the respondent — in the alleged misconduct.

    • Describe the investigation committee's judgment on the existence and the severity of misconduct, whether or not it occurred repeatedly, and what its purpose was.

  9. Proposal for follow-up measures.

    • Propose appropriate follow-up measures based on the severity of the misconduct to the parties concerned, such as the head of the research institute, the research integrity committee, and the personnel committee.

    • The range of follow-up measures is very wide, from a warning all the way up to disciplinary action. It is reasonable to go through a separate process to determine the level of punishment, and the investigation committee should propose measures that are specifically relevant to research integrity, such as retracting dissertations, memorandums, restrictions on research and in-school activities, closer evaluation of future research, and so on.

  10. Issues during the investigation process

    • Briefly describe the limitations of the investigation committee's efforts and any problems, improvements, or suggestions that arose during the investigation process.

  11. A list of the investigation committee members, as well as their signatures and seals.

4. Adjudication

The investigation process is completed when the investigation committee makes a final confirmation of the results of the decisions and notifies the whistleblower and the respondent.

During the process of confirming the findings of the investigation committee, other parties, such as the research integrity committee or agency head, must not arbitrarily change the results.

5. Measures after the investigation of research misconduct

The investigation of research misconduct is completed by the adjudication process. According to the level of severity of the misconduct, follow-up measures will take place, such as personnel committees and disciplinary action.

  • In cases where the funding agency is clearly identifiable, such as in national research and development projects or academic support projects, reporting the investigation results to the funding agencies is a part of the process of handling research misconduct.

  • The purpose of the research misconduct investigation lies in the verification of the truth of the matter in question, so it is not suitable for the investigation committee to decide on a punishment. However, the committee may suggest a level of punishment based on the degree of severity of the relevant misconduct.

Follow-up measures not only include personnel actions, such as suspension, expulsion, or dismissal, but also include a variety of actions, such as revising or retracting a dissertation or article, taking an oath of honesty for future research, or placing restrictions on additional research.

Institutions have different rules to handle the appeals raised by whistleblowers or respondents.

  • Some agencies have codes regarding objections and reinvestigation procedures, while many others do not have codes regarding reinvestigation.

In cases where the funding agency is clearly identifiable, appeals can be made to the relevant agency. Other cases, such as misconduct related to graduate dissertations, may follow the rules of the research institution. If the research institute does not have any rules regarding reinvestigation, whistleblowers and respondents who do not accept the adjudication can only rely on umbrella organizations such as the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Procedures on such matters are currently inadequate.

Regulations on Ensuring Research Ethics and Preventing Misconduct (State Science and Technology Commission)

Article 19 (Objections)

  • In cases where the whistleblower or the respondent has an objection regarding the results of the preliminary inquiry or main investigation, he/she may appeal in writing to the head of the agency that conducted the investigation within 30 days of receiving the results. The head of the research institute shall handle the objection pursuant to paragraph 1 within 60 days of receiving it, if no special circumstances are involved.

Guidelines for Assurance of Research Ethics (Ordinance of the MoE)

Article 22 (Objections)

  • In cases where the whistleblower or respondent has an objection regarding the results of the preliminary inquiry or adjudication, he/she may raise an objection, in writing, to the head of the agency that conducted the investigation within 30 days of receiving the results. The head of the research institute shall handle the objection pursuant to paragraph 1 within 60 days of receiving it, if no special circumstances are entailed. In addition to raising an objection, the whistleblower or the respondent may separately request a reinvestigation regarding the case concerned from the Minister of Education, Science, and Technology or the head of another funding agency.

III. Real-Life Cases of Investigations into Research Misconduct

The investigative procedures in Section II for cases of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, and duplication do not vary significantly depending on the type of research misconduct.

  • Checking the facts during the main investigation process for plagiarism or duplication is relatively simple and takes a short amount of time, but in cases of fabrication, falsification, or improper authorship, checking the facts takes relatively longer due to the necessity of reviewing the research materials and hearing testimony from the persons concerned.

Therefore, in this section, instead of focusing on the different types of research misconduct, we will illustrate the investigative procedures in question through real-life cases that highlight important issues such as the details of the allegation and the relationship between the funding agency and the research institute.

1. Case 1: Suspicion of research misconduct raised from the outside

June 24, 2008 | A whistleblower filed a civil petition to the Board of Audit and Inspection regarding research plagiarism.

  • The details of the allegation were as follows: The respondent plagiarized the main idea of the research that the whistleblower had been conducting, wrote a research plan, and then applied it to an internal research project at XXX Research Institute and a national research and development project. Since a similar line of research was being conducted, the incident was categorized as plagiarism of a research plan.

September 5, 2008 | The Board of Audit and Inspection passed the relevant information on to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and the Ministry requested XXX Research Institute to conduct an investigation regarding the integrity of the research.

September 11, 2008 | XXX Research Institute formed an investigation committee made up of six insiders and three outsiders and began the main investigation.

  • Since the relevant information had been transferred from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology and the need for a main investigation was clear, the preliminary inquiry was omitted.

September 2008 | The final verdict determined that plagiarism had taken place, and the results were provided to the whistleblower, the subject of the investigation, the Board of Audit and Inspection, and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology.

  • The facts of plagiarism were deemed to be self-evident, so the investigation was completed in a short period of time.

October 9, 2008 | The respondent appealed to an umbrella organization and XXX Research Institute.

November 25, 2008 | XXX Research Institute responded by forming a reinvestigation committee with new members and held four meetings.

  • November 25, 2008. The committee reviewed the results of the main investigation and composed a series of questions for the persons involved after assessing the main issues.

  • December 22, 2008. The committee reviewed the answers to their questions and called the whistleblower and respondent for interviews.

  • January 6, 2009. Researchers other than the respondent were interviewed.

  • January 20, 2009. The final conclusion was made. The case was not judged to be intentional plagiarism or duplicate research, and the relevant research was allowed to continue. However, it was recognized that the respondent was inattentive in copying preceding research while writing the research plan, so warning and prevention measures were needed.)

XXX Research Institute notified the Board of Audit and Inspection, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, the whistleblower, and the respondent of the findings of the investigation. The investigation was terminated since both the whistleblower and respondent had no objections to the results.

※ The main lessons of this case are that in cases of plagiarism and duplication, the most important factor is what was duplicated, instead of the amount of duplication, and that when multiple researchers are involved, the role of each researcher must be investigated. In addition, it is notable that the respondent's appeal was accepted, a reinvestigation was conducted, and the conclusion was revised as a result of the reinvestigation.

2. Case 2: Suspicion of research misconduct discovered during the evaluation process of a national research and development project

November 7, 2007 | During the final evaluation process of a national research and development project, a suspicion of duplication in the research report arose.

  • The details of the annual reports of two national research and development projects the respondent had been simultaneously conducting were duplicated and also overlapped with preceding research reports and other journal articles in the related field.

December 18, 2007 | The relevant funding agency assembled a board of review and requested the university that the respondent was affiliated with to conduct an institutional investigation to evaluate those suspicions.

January 3, 2008 | The university convoked a research integrity committee and decided to launch a main investigation.

January 4, 2008 | An investigative committee was formed, consisting of seven members, and the main investigation was begun.

February 4, 2008 | The final verdict stated that all of the allegations made by the funding agency were true, meaning that the project was plagiarized.

February 13, 2008 | The university notified the funding agency of the results of the investigation.

※ The main lesson of this case is that although a funding agency presented the suspicion of research misconduct, it is the research institute's responsibility to verify the integrity of the research. The role of the funding agency is to review whether or not the integrity of the research was appropriately verified.

3. Case 3: Internal accusation

The whistleblower published an article in a Korean journal on January 2004 based on a 2003 doctoral thesis that he/she had written.

After confirming that a piece similar to his/her Korean dissertation was published in a foreign journal in 2005, but his/her name was omitted from the author list, the whistleblower reported the case to Korean and foreign journals.

  • In addition, the whistleblower sued the author of the foreign study for omitting his/her name in the author list and also reported the case to the funding agency that funded the research.

2006 | The funding agency requested the relevant research institute to verify the integrity of the research.

2007 | The research institute conducted a preliminary inquiry and a main investigation.

  • The investigation was focused on the primary author of the foreign study and recognized duplicate publication in the Korean journal and the foreign journal.

May 2007 | The funding agency assembled a board of review to assess the results of the research institute's investigation and requested supplemental information regarding the following points:

  • Investigation of the primary author and co-authors.

  • The roles of each researcher in the planning and execution of the research and in writing up the results in the first doctoral thesis and the Korean study.

  • Request for the main investigation committee to confirm its impartiality.

May-September 2007 | The research institute carried out a reinvestigation with new investigation committee members, following the suggestions made by the funding agency.

September 2007 | The funding agency accepted the results of the reinvestigation and decided to replace the chief of research and restrict him/her from participating in research for the next three years.

October 2007 | The foreign journal decided to retract the study because it was a duplicate of the study published in the Korean journal.

※ In this case, a reinvestigation was carried out following the funding agency's argument that the verification of research integrity by the research institute was insufficient. The main lesson of this case is that the the subject of verification does not have to be restricted to the reported person alone and that the intention and specific circumstances of misconduct are important to consider in the judgment.

4. Case 4: Self investigation by a funding agency

September 7, 2009 | An anonymous allegation was registered at the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, and the Commission requested the funding agency to submit relevant materials relating to the project.

  • The allegation stated that the details of a 2008 annual report on a national research and development project overlapped with a final research report from 2002, and that the 2008 research report contained no actual new results.

December 18, 2009 | The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission decided that the allegations were true and reported the research misconduct to the funding agency (the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission became the whistleblower).

December 30, 2009 | The funding agency decided that a self-verification process would be difficult since the respondent was working at a small company. The agency decided to investigate the case themselves and took measures to suspend research funding.

January 7, 2010 | The preliminary inquiry committee, consisting of 3 outside experts, realized the need for a main investigation in order to determine whether there was duplication in the annual report. The committee concluded that there was no correspondence between the national research and development project and the main points of the preceding research, which the whistleblower had argued were plagiarized. The duplicated phrases were marginal and were therefore judged not to be plagiarism.

January 18, 2010 | The relevant company was notified of results of the preliminary inquiry.

January 27, 2010 | A main investigation committee was formed and the whistleblower (Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission) was notified of the beginning of the main investigation.

February 8, 2010 | The first meeting of the main investigation committee was held.

  • A set of questions for the respondent was written.

February 22, 2010 | The second meeting of the main investigation committee was held.

  • The answers were reviewed.

February 26, 2010 | The third meeting of the main investigation committee was held.

  • The respondent attended and provided an explanation.

March 2010 | The main investigation committee concluded that the annual research report was plagiarized.

※ In this case, not only was the annual report plagiarized, but the results of the new experiments presented in the report were also highly questionable. Therefore, the case demanded a thorough verification of the research results. Moreover, since there was a possibility that the research funding was not used as planned, this process led to an additional inspection of the research funds.

Notes

[1] ES Hwang SS Song IJ Lee K Park WC Sohn Understanding and practice of research ethics Daejeon National Research Foundation 2011 161.

[2] ibid. p. 162.

[3] ibid. p. 164.

[4] ibid. p. 165.

Reference

1 

ES HwangSS SongIJ LeeK ParkWC SohnUnderstanding and practice of research ethicsDaejeonNational Research Foundation2011

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