What is Research Misconduct?

The Fabrication-Falsification-Plagiarism (FFP)  Standard
Expanding Beyond the FFP Standard: Cornell
Expanding Beyond the FFP Standard: Peer Institutions

The FFP Standard of Research Misconduct

The 2017 National Academies report Fostering Integrity in Resarch discusses  the various research misconduct definitions that have been implemented over the years by funding agencies and universities.

Virtually all policies include the following Fabrication-Falsifcation-Plagiarism Standard that was adopted in 2000 by the Office of Science and Technology:

Research misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them. More

Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record. More

Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. More

Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

These Federal agencies subscribe to this definition of research misconduct: NSF, NIH, USDA.  The American Physical Society offers  additional perspectives.

A university policy that addresses research misconduct may very well include  more than just the  “core” FFP standard in its list of research-related prohibitions. Such is the case at  Cornell and many other schools.

Expanding Beyond the FFP Standard: Cornell

In addition to the FFP Standard, University Policy 1.2 identifies the  following behaviors as instances of academic  misconduct:

Forgery of academic documents that lead to a misrepresentation of the research record. More

Breach of confidentiality associated with the conduct of research. More

Facilitation of acts of research  misconduct. More

Retaliation against those who in good faith report instances of research misconduct. More

Deviation from what is generally regarded as  acceptable research practice. More

Whether or not “extras” like these are regarded as part of an expanded definition of research misconduct or as instances of the larger concept called “academic misconduct”  is a moot point to some and a serious issue  to others. On the one hand, the most important thing is to identify an overall list of prohibitions that foster integrity in the academic workplace. In that sense the semantics of academic misconduct does not matter. On the other hand, there is a less-is-more argument that says expanding the  FFP definition muddies the waters. An FFP-only policy harmonizes with Federal  regulations and focusses attention on the “big stuff”. Infractions such as those listed above are handled by  separate processes in this model.

Expanding Beyond the FFP Standard: Peer Institutions

Below are links to research misconduct policies at peer institutions.  Excerpts are provided if a  policy goes beyond the FFP standard and or has an interesting component that worthy of study. For FFP-Only schools, no effort was  made to see how other research-related malpractices are handled.

FFP-Only Schools:

Virginia Commonwealth University

Schools that go beyond FFP:


,,, other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the research community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research may also constitute misconduct in research.

… misusing confidential material such as manuscripts and grant proposals received in the peer review process and proprietary information or materials

Examples of Research Practices That Are Inappropriate But Do Not Generally Represent Misconduct in Research

1.  maintaining inadequate research records, especially for results that are published or are relied on by others;
2.  failing to give appropriate recognition to people who have made significant contributions to the research;
3.  conferring or requesting authorship on the basis of a specialized service or contribution that is not significantly related to the research reported in the paper;
4.  refusing to give peers reasonable access to unique research materials or data that support published papers;
5.  releasing preliminary research results, especially in the public media, without providing sufficient data to allow peers to judge the validity of the results or to reproduce the experiments
6. neglecting to supervise others properly in work for which the faculty member is responsible

Johns Hopkins

Each of the following must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to support a finding of research misconduct. (a) There has been a significant departure from the accepted practices of the scientific community. (b) The misconduct was committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.


Deliberate Interference is intentionally causing material harm to the research or scholarly work of others, and may include damaging or destroying the property of others, such as research equipment or supplies; disrupting active experiments; or altering or deleting products of research, including data.




“Misconduct in research”, as understood here, includes, but is not limited to, fabrication or falsification of data, plagiarism, interference with the integrity of the work of others, or misappropriation of the ideas of others in the proposing, conducting and reporting of research.


This policy addresses only research misconduct. Stanford’s statement on faculty discipline has been interpreted to include such other misdeeds as reckless disregard for accuracy, failure to supervise adequately, and other lapses from professional conduct or neglect of academic duties. Findings (pursuant to this research misconduct procedure) of serious academic deficiencies in proposing, conducting or reporting research – but not constituting research misconduct – are to be addressed by the cognizant dean, or by initiating the relevant disciplinary process, as appropriate. Allegations or suspicions of misconduct outside the scope of this policy should be referred for investigation to the cognizant dean, vice provost or vice president; the process of investigation and reporting obligations may differ from those required for research misconduct cases.

U Chicago

… the suppression of relevant evidence or data; the conscious misrepresentation of sources.

U  Michigan

In addition, the University of Michigan may apply these procedures to other serious deviations from accepted research practices, including but not limited to the following:

1. Abuse of confidentiality: taking or releasing the ideas or data of others by one with whom they were shared with the legitimate expectation of confidentiality (e.g., stealing ideas from others’ grant proposals, award applications, or manuscripts for publication when one is a reviewer for granting agencies or journals, or is an internal reviewer);
2. Dishonesty in publication: knowingly publishing material that will mislead readers (e.g., misrepresenting data, misrepresenting research progress; or adding the names of other authors without permission);
3. Property violations : stealing, tampering with, or destroying property of others, such as research papers, supplies, equipment, or products of research or scholarship;
4. Failure to report observed research misconduct: covering up or otherwise failing to report observed, suspected, or apparent research misconduct by others;
5. Retaliation: taking punitive action against an individual for having reported alleged research misconduct;
6. Directing or encouraging others to engage in any of the above listed offenses

U Pennsylvania

Serious deviation from accepted practices includes but is not limited to stealing, destroying, or damaging the research property of others with the intent to alter the research record; and directing or encouraging others to engage in fabrication, falsification or plagiarism. As defined here, it is limited to activity related to the proposing, performing, or reviewing of research, or in the reporting of research results.

U Texas

In addition, other practices that seriously deviate from ethical standards for proposing, conducting, or reporting research are unacceptable and in some cases may constitute scientific misconduct.

U Washington

A finding of research misconduct requires—in addition to a conclusion that fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results has occurred—that:

There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and

The misconduct be committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly; and

The allegation be proven by a preponderance of the evidence


Academic fraud…is more than error; it may take the form of falsification or fabrication of data, plagiarism, or grossly negligent data collection or analysis. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the damage that can result from such a breach of the academic commitment to truth. Academic fraud…not only shatters individual careers, but besmirches the entire cause of objective research, undermines the credibility of scholarship and rends the fragile tissues of confidence between scholar and scholar, teacher and student, the university and the public

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