Data Integrity, Research Misconduct and the Impact of the Lab Environment
The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is to promote the integrity of Public Health Service (PHS)-funded research, which it does through its education arm (Division of Education and Integrity) and it compliance arm (Division of Investigative Oversight). ORI reviews institutional research misconduct investigations into allegations of falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Through this work, ORI is presented with cases of research misconduct for which an obvious nexus between the lack of data integrity, poor mentoring and/or laboratory management, and allegations of research misconduct is evident. Review of the primary research record, including data spreadsheets in many of these cases, reveals remarkably poor record keeping, data validation, and oversight. Our analysis of ORI’s research misconduct findings suggests that graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and research associates are at higher risk for engaging in research misconduct, which emphasizes the importance of the laboratory training environment. The 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on Fostering Integrity in Research provides institutions and federal agencies with a number of recommendations for consideration to address these important issues.