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Allegations of Misconduct in Research – Procedure For Dealing with

Category Research
Type Procedure
Approved by Council, 3 August 1993
Date Procedure Took Effect 1 January 1994
Last Approved Revision
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise)
Responsible Officer Senior Research Analyst, Research and Enterprise
Review Date 31 May 2012



A research-led University with an international reputation for excellence.


The University of Otago will advance, preserve and promote knowledge, critical thinking and intellectual independence to enhance the understanding, development and well-being of individuals and society. It will achieve this by building on foundations of broad research and teaching capabilities, unique campus learning environments, its nationwide presence and mana, and international links.

Organisational Scope

This Procedure applies to all staff and students of the University who engage in any form of research, and to those charged with investigation allegations of misconduct in research.


Preliminary Inquiry - Preliminary Inquiry means an assessment by the person(s) appointed by the Vice-Chancellor of the information provided by the complainant together with the response of the person(s) complained against to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of research misconduct merits formal investigation

Formal Investigation - Formal investigation means a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant matters to determine whether serious misconduct in research has occurred. Formal grievance procedures as set out in the Staff Handbook will be carefully followed.

Policy Content

1. Misconduct in Research includes:

(a) The fabrication of data by claiming results where none have been obtained.

(b) The falsification of data, by changing records or falsely claiming the use of techniques or methods or of levels of precision.

(c) Plagiarism, including the direct copying of handwritten, typed, printed or published text or notation, the use of other people's data without acknowledgement or permission where that was appropriate and the deliberate use of published or unpublished ideas from other people without adequate attribution.

(d) Misleading ascription of authorship, including listing of authors without their permission, attributing work to others who have not contributed to the research and failing to acknowledge work primarily produced by a research student, trainee or associate.

(e) Other practices that seriously deviate from those accepted within the research community for proposing, conducting or reporting research, such as intentional infringement of the University's code of ethical behaviour as set out in the Staff Handbook. Misconduct does not include honest error or honest differences in the interpretation or judgment of data.

2. Procedures

(a) Mechanism for lodging complaints: Initially, the complaint or allegation should be discussed with the appropriate Divisional Pro-Vice-Chancellor. If the complainant is not a member of the University, preliminary discussion with the Divisional Pro-Vice-Chancellor is still appropriate. Complainants must be given a copy of the University's procedures for dealing with misconduct in research. After the initial discussion, the complainant should decide whether or not to proceed.

(b) Should the complainant decide to proceed, the allegations must be submitted in writing to the Registrar and Secretary to Council. The complainant should be informed that, in general, any materials which refer to another person will be "personal information" and can be requested by that person under the provisions of the Official Information Act 1982. The Act does, however, provide that no proceedings, civil or criminal, shall lie against the author of the information as a result of materials being supplied to the University and subsequently being made available under the Act.

(c) Once the complainant has decided to proceed, the Vice-Chancellor will, after consultation as he or she deems fit, appoint a person or persons to conduct a Preliminary Inquiry. The Vice-Chancellor will determine the terms of reference for the preliminary inquiry.

(d) Once an allegation is made, the protection of all interested parties is essential.

Interested parties may include:

  • The person bringing the allegation;
  • The person or persons against whom a complaint is made;
  • Research students and staff working with the person(s) concerned;
  • The Department(s) in which the research was conducted;
  • Publishers, actual or potential, of allegedly fraudulent work;
  • Funding bodies which have contributed to the research;
  • Human subjects of on-going or past research;
  • The public, in some cases - for example, if a drug is involved.

Adequate protection of those involved in the complaint and the Preliminary Inquiry demands confidentiality and reasonable speed in the early stages of the Preliminary Inquiry. Where protection of the interests of other parties involves some necessary disclosure, this should take place only after the response of the person(s) complained against has been considered. Such judgments should be made by the person(s) conducting the Preliminary Inquiry and communicated to the Vice-Chancellor.

(e) Consideration will need to be given as to whether or not the person(s) complained against should be suspended during the Preliminary Inquiry. The decision to suspend the person(s) complained against will be made by the Vice-Chancellor after consultation with the person(s) conducting the Preliminary Inquiry. If such action is contemplated, the person(s) complained against will be given an opportunity to comment in writing within fourteen (14) days before any action is taken. Any such suspension will be on full pay.

(f) The Preliminary Inquiry: A Preliminary Inquiry means an assessment by the person(s) appointed by the Vice-Chancellor of the information provided by the complainant together with the response of the person(s) complained against to determine whether an allegation or apparent instance of research misconduct merits formal investigation.

(i) Immediately the complaint is lodged with the Vice-Chancellor, the person(s) complained against should be:

  1. informed in writing and given full details of the complaint, including the name of the complainant except in unusual circumstances, and informed that a Preliminary Inquiry is to proceed;
  2. given not more than thirty (30) days in which to respond in writing; and
  3. required to produce experimental data files or other material to be kept secure during the Preliminary Inquiry.

(ii) The Preliminary Inquiry must be completed quickly, preferably within thirty (30) days, and confidentiality must be maintained.

(iii) The Preliminary Inquiry should be limited to an assessment of the information supplied by the complainant and the response of the person(s) against whom the complaint has been made, in order to determine that the complaint is not trivial and that there is or is likely to be sufficient evidence to warrant holding a full Formal Investigation.

(iv) Action on completion of the Preliminary Inquiry

  1. If no case is found to exist, the person(s) complained against and the complainant should be informed that there will be no further action taken. The conclusion must be recorded officially in a form satisfactory to the person(s) complained against. Provision should be made for the custody of the material supplied. If the person(s) conducting the Preliminary Inquiry forms the view that the complaint has been made vexatiously or without any reasonable foundation, this finding shall be reported to the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice-Chancellor may then consider disciplinary and/or legal proceedings against the complainant. If the charges were reasonably brought but unsubstantiated, the case should cease. The Vice-Chancellor will need to exercise his or her judgment at this point to determine whether there are other individuals or organisations that need to be informed. This will depend upon the degree of confidentiality that has been achieved.
  2. If the Preliminary Inquiry finds that there is a case to answer, the report to that effect will be referred to the person(s) complained against for comment before the finding becomes public information. A limited time will be allowed for these comments to be made and the final version of the report will include these comments. If there is a finding that serious misconduct may have occurred, formal procedures will be commenced.

3. Formal Investigation

Formal investigation means a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant matters to determine whether serious misconduct in research has occurred. Formal grievance procedures as set out in the Staff Handbook will be carefully followed.

(a) There are a number of procedural matters which need to be considered in setting up a Formal Investigation into alleged serious misconduct in research. The gravity of such a charge and its consequences, if proven, require that the procedure for the Formal Investigation meets the standards of a judicial hearing. The person(s) complained against (and possibly other persons concerned) will be entitled to an oral hearing with legal representation and the right to cross-examine witnesses. All relevant evidence or other material before the investigators will need to be disclosed and open to questioning.

(i) Those charged with conducting the Formal Investigation must be unbiased and seen so to be, and should include someone who is a recognised authority in the discipline concerned, as well as an appropriately experienced lawyer.

(ii) While confidentiality remains important during a Formal Investigation, other matters may take precedence. It is not possible in advance to state what should happen. The adjudicating body must determine what should be made public and when, bearing in mind the interests of all concerned. It is important to protect the accused. If the charges are not proven, the accused will need to have a statement that "The charge was found to have no basis" placed on his or her record and, if suspended, to be reinstated. A charge of serious misconduct in research could damage a person's future prospects and a defamation action could result unless the procedures laid down are carefully followed. It is important to protect the complainant. In some cases, there could be subsequent victimisation which could seriously affect his or her career. There may be reason to inform the publishers of a paper that its production may have resulted from misconduct in research. Relevant funding agencies should be consulted and informed that an investigation is in progress.

(iii) If allegations are made which appear to cast doubt on the validity of one or more research publications, it may be necessary to investigate past research as well as that covered by all allegations.

(iv) If the person accused has been found guilty of misconduct, it is important that the position of past and present co-workers should be clarified.

(b) Powers of Investigation:

The Vice-Chancellor may require any members of the University to give oral evidence before those conducting the Formal Investigation or to produce any material or other records in their possession relating to the matters at issue. The Vice-Chancellor may also require the person(s) complained against to repeat an experiment, where this is appropriate.

(c) Action following the Formal Investigation:

The decision of the Formal Investigation will take the form of a recommendation to the Vice-Chancellor. If the complaint is found to be established, the University will take disciplinary action which is consistent with the current Disciplinary Codes relevant to the person(s) complained against. The person(s) complained against will be given the opportunity to make representation on the recommended penalty before such a penalty is imposed. In addition, relevant publishers, professional and academic organisations, sponsoring agencies and all other New Zealand Universities will be notified. If the complaint is not sustained, action may be needed to redress any damage to the person(s) complained against, including the costs incurred in defending themselves. It will also be necessary to consider whether the initial allegations were made maliciously and, if so, what appropriate action should be taken.

(d) Action if the accused resigns:

It is part of the University's procedures that, in the event of resignation or departure from the University, a Formal Investigation will nevertheless be conducted to report on the status of the research and on any necessary remedial action needed to protect affected people (see section 2. (d)) and the public.

Related Policies, Procedures and Forms

This document draws heavily on Guidelines on Fraud and Serious Misconduct in Research, Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, Canberra, 1989, pp 1-7, and Guidelines for Responsible Practice in Research and Dealing with Problems of Research Misconduct, Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, Canberra, 1990, pp 1-10.