Research misconduct

What is this about?

What is research misconduct? Which practices are considered ‘misconduct’ and which might be labelled a less serious ‘misbehavior’ or ‘questionable research practice’? For some, misconduct is synonymous with ‘FFP’ - Falsification, Fabrication and Plagiarism (1)– whereas others consider a failure to meet ethical, legal and professional obligations, and even a failure to properly deal with misconduct allegations, to qualify as misconduct (2). There is ongoing debate among academics how to precisely define research misconduct (3,4,5).

The European Code of Conduct on Research Integrity (2) refers to misconduct as FFP. Other violations which damage the integrity of the research are referred to as ‘other unacceptable practices’.

Why is this important?

The proper conduct and reporting of research is fundamental to the scientific method and the integrity of the research record. Research misconduct however distorts the knowledge base. The practices of falsification, fabrication and plagiarism are widely agreed to constitute misconduct and are intentional deceptions. The Office of Research Integrity defines research misconduct as follows:

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

(a) Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
(b) 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.
(c) Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
(d) Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.’

Falsification, fabrication and plagiarism, however, are relatively rare (6,7). In contrast, other behaviors, ranging from unintentional ‘sloppy' science to conscious minor breaches of research integrity are more frequent and possibly more damaging to science (6,7) (figure 1).

(Figure 1. René Custers, VIB – Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (2013), adapted from D. Fanelli, London School of Economics.)

For whom is this important?

Students, PhD Students, Research subjects, Scientists, Ethics committee members, Principal investigators, Researchers, Health care professionals, Academic staff, Research institutions, Policy makers, Supervisors, Postdocs, Universities, Funders, Journal publishers, Journal editors, Industry stakeholders, Junior researchers, Senior researchers, Reviewers, Teachers, General public, Research integrity trainers

What are the best practices?

Various practices are related to research misconduct, ranging from building an environment conducive to good research conduct to the policies and procedures for reporting misconduct. Below, some initiatives to improve the reporting of misconduct are detailed.

The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity focuses on the adherence to Integrity and Fairness in misconduct procedures. Find the code here.

The Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) outline the responsibilities of journal editors and publishers in their ‘core practices’ here. Recommendations include:

  • "Journals must take seriously allegations of misconduct pre-publication and post-publication"
  • "Journals should have a clearly described process for handling allegations, however they are brought to the journal's or publisher's attention"
  • "COPE expects members to have robust and well-described, publicly documented practices in all these areas for their journals and organisations"


1 Office of Research Integrity. Definition Research Misconduct. Available at: Accessed: March 2019

2 European Science Foundation, All European Academies. The European code of conduct for research integrity. Revised edition: European Science Foundation; 2011.

3 Resnik, David B., Talicia Neal, Austin Raymond, and Grace E. Kissling. 2015. “Research Misconduct Definitions Adopted by U.S. Research Institutions.” Accountability in Research 22 (1): 14–21.

4 Andersen, Hanne. 2007. “Demarcating Misconduct from Misinterpretations and Mistakes.” First Biannual SPSP Conference, Twente.

5 Salwén, Håkan. 2015. “The Swedish Research Council’s Definition of ‘Scientific Misconduct’: A Critique.” Science and Engineering Ethics 21 (1): 115–26.

6 Martinson BC, Anderson MS, De Vries R. Scientists behaving badly. Nature 2005 Jun 9;435:737-8.

7 Fanelli D. How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data. PloS one 2009;4(5):e5738.

Hugh Desmond, Natalie Evans contributed to this theme.

Latest contribution was May 29, 2019