University proactively prevents research misconduct

The University’s research ethics program is considered an example for other schools.

by Rebecca Harrington


Researchers from the universities of Wisconsin and Washington reportedly falsified data.

A social psychologist in the Netherlands fabricated more than 50 scientific articles over the course of his career.

While reports of research misconduct at other universities have had an uptick this year, University of Minnesota officials tout the institution’s ethics program as an example for other schools.

Proactive measures

Most University research oversight exists to prevent research misconduct from occurring in the first place.

Frances Lawrenz, associate vice president for research, said anyone doing research must complete the Responsible Conduct of Research program, as required by the governmental agency providing their funding.

This includes an introductory, two-part workshop completed online and in-person that covers conflicts of interest, social responsibilities, plagiarism, peer review, intellectual property and money management.

Depending on the nature of their studies, researchers also complete discipline-specific workshops that contain additional information on controlled substances or animal subjects, for example.

The University also requires faculty and principal investigators to complete an annual review of updated research ethics policies online and an in-person “active learning” discussion of responsible research once every three years.

“The validity of our research data is absolutely paramount,” Lawrenz said. “If you’re not collecting the data correctly and not following ethical rules, the data aren’t valid. It undergirds the whole research enterprise.”

Reactive process

Scientific misconduct varies from doctoring data to fabricating entire articles. Retractions of scientific articles are relatively rare — a study found 4,449 articles were retracted from 1928 to 2011. In 2006, 1.35 million research articles were published in total, according to a study.

The University is currently reviewing a December 2012 retraction by veterinary medicine professor Sagar Goyal, who retracted his 2010 study after a National Institutes of Health researcher noticed differences in the swine flu strains identified in the paper.

Academic Health Center spokesman Justin Paquette said the inquiry to figure out how the retraction happened is ongoing.

“No such misconduct has been determined at this point,” he said in a statement.

During the 60-day inquiry process, according to University policy, a panel of employees conducts interviews and reviews evidence to determine if further action is necessary. If the panel finds enough evidence to warrant a full investigation, an investigation panel has 120 days to conduct its analysis, and then disciplinary action can follow.

The panel reviewing Goyal’s retraction is currently in the inquiry stage and is expected to complete its report by this summer.

Lawrenz said the University tries “very hard to be a responsive institution.”

“We are always vigilant,” she said. “We have one of the leading educational programs in the nation.”