Themes

Research integrity officers

What is this about?

A research integrity officer (RIO) serves a complex, exacting, and unique role within their institution. In one week, they may serve as judge, mediator, counselor, teacher, and regulations manager. They could have the Centers for Disease Control on the phone while a graduate student cries in their office. The RIO is one of the most intricate and unique positions in academia.

Why is this important?

An institution’s RIO promotes responsible research, conducts research training, discourages research misconduct, and deals with allegations or evidence of possible research misconduct (1). Throughout a week, they may present training seminars about responsible research, update definitions of research standards, and investigate allegations of misconduct. Each particular task fulfils the RIOs mission to prevent and mitigate research misconduct. They work for the good of their institution and the whole scientific community.

The consequences of scientific misconduct are far-reaching. Perpetrators, whistle-blowers, other researchers in the field, the scientific community, and even the general public feel its effects. Perpetrators can have papers retracted, their faculty positions revoked, and their labs closed down. Whistle-blowers can end up with damaged careers. The general public can lose faith in the scientific community. Plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification are major threats to the practice of science. Without research integrity officers, this threat would loom much larger.

When a case of possible research misconduct appears, RIOs spring into action. They take an active role in the investigation by conducting interviews and inspecting data. They protect whistle-blowers from retaliation. They educate those involved about their rights. If needed, they link the institution to oversight agencies who continue to pursue investigations.

For whom is this important?

Students, PhD Students, Scientists, Principal investigators, Researchers, Supervisors, Postdocs, Universities, Research integrity trainers, Research Integrity Officers

What are the best practices?

The details of an RIO's job vary from country to country, but the position is mandatory in many.

In the United States, any institution that receives Public Health Service funding reports to the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) at the Department of Health and Human Services. A RIO serves as the liaison between the ORI and their institution. By law, they ensure that the institution has policies and procedures for investigations and reports these to the ORI (2). They also contribute to investigations that lead to retractions, expulsions, and (sometimes) arrests.

In the European Union, each country has slightly different requirements and roles for their RIOs, but their task is essentially the same. The European Network of Research Integrity Officers serves as the expert agency in the EU, assisting RIOs with advice and guidance.

With the increasing pace of scientific publications, an RIO's job is more important than ever. They serve an essential role in the scientific community. They protect individual researchers from accidental missteps. They protect the public from poor, fraudulent, and fabricated science. They protect the whole scientific community by building public trust. An RIO serves on the front lines of scientific integrity. They're present to guide researchers and foster trust in institutions. RIOs exist to protect science and are a resource for researchers who need guidance or help with misconduct questions.

References

1. Geller, L.N. 2002. Exploring the Role of the Research Integrity Officer: Commentary on Seven Ways to Plagiarize: Handling Real Allegations of Research Misconduct. Science and Engineering Ethics, 8(4): 540-542.

2. Office of Research Integrity. Handbook for Institutional Research Integrity Officers. Office for Research Integrity Report. Accessed May 2019. Available at https://ori.hhs.gov/sites/defa…

Luke Hollomon, Vicko Tomic contributed to this theme.

Latest contribution was June 24, 2019