Research integrity report 2021
Annual Report 2020-2021
The College is a signatory to the UK Concordat to support research integrity and is committed to maintaining the highest standards of rigour and integrity in all aspects of research, and to meeting its obligations under the Concordat. These commitments include the annual presentation of a high-level statement on research integrity to the Council. As well as providing an update on the actions taken to support research integrity in the last year, the report also provides information on investigations of research misconduct. A copy of the annual report in pdf format is available on this page.
The concordat to support research integrity
The UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity, which was revised and updated in 2019, sets out the expectations for institutions and researchers. In addition to “maintaining the highest standards of rigour and integrity in all aspects of research”, and “ensuring that research is conducted according to appropriate ethical, legal and professional frameworks, obligations and standards”. Research institutions are also expected to commit to:
- supporting a research environment that is underpinned by a culture of integrity and based on good governance, best practice, and support for the development of researchers
- using transparent, timely, robust and fair processes to deal with allegations of research misconduct should they arise
- working together to strengthen the integrity of research and to review progress regularly and openly.
The College framework for supporting research and investigating allegations of research misconduct is set out is set out in the Research integrity framework page.
Support for research integrity
Although the College already provides a variety of training opportunities and guidance to its researchers, to meet the Concordat’s enhanced training requirements for researchers, a new Research Integrity & Ethics at Imperial College e-learning course was introduced this year, which is now available online for all researchers. The provision of in-house training on 2 research integrity will also enable the College to collect and maintain accurate training records for all researchers. As well as being useful in their own right, these training records will also assist the College in providing information for future audits by research funders.
In 2020-21 the College received sixteen allegations of research misconduct, a significant increase on the number of complaints received in most previous years. At the same time the number of cases referred for full investigation also increased to three from just one each year in the previous three years. It is not yet clear if these increases are indicative of a longer-term trend, or if cases will return to a more usual number in future. Further statistical information on research misconduct cases can be found under Allegations statistics.
A common feature of several allegations since 2012, including four in 2020-21, is the inclusion of plagiarised material in manuscripts presented for publication. The four cases this year included two in which data was included in publications by students without the authorisation of their principal investigators and co-authors, and two in which College researchers were accused of plagiarising material by external academics (both allegations were dismissed after investigation).
The College also receives a number of allegations of fabrication or falsification of data in research papers and proposals. These allegations are often made anonymously, or as a result of comments made on websites such as PubPeer. In 2020-21 seven allegations of data manipulation or fabrication were investigated as a result of either comments made online, or as a result of anonymous allegations received by the College.
Disputes over the inclusion or exclusion of researchers listed as co-authors on papers continue to result in a significant number of allegations each year. In order to avoid authorship disputes, departments and principal investigators are encouraged to confirm at the outset that only those researchers who have made a significant intellectual or practical contribution to the work should be listed as a co-author, and that all authors should abide by the College’s authorship guidelines.
Research misconduct allegations referred for full investigation and/or found to be proven
In 2020 the College received an allegation that a small study had been conducted by a Professor for his private company without first obtaining ethics approval for the study. The allegations were investigated by a panel including independent external membership. The panel concluded that the professor should have obtained ethics approval before conducting the study.
In 2020 the College also investigated an allegation of potential data manipulation in a paper originally published in 2016. The investigation confirmed that the original data had been deleted in contravention of the College’s and the research funder’s data retention policies. The investigation panel concluded that the allegation of research misconduct was proven on the basis of the unauthorised deletion of research data. As a result of the College investigation the paper was retracted.
A PhD student who had been unable to complete some control experiments during the first lockdown was found to have falsified some missing control data, as well as manipulating some of his other results. The falsified and manipulated data had been included in his draft PhD thesis, and in 2 papers that were being prepared for publication. The student admitted the offence and all suspect data was removed from his thesis and from the draft papers.
As part of his studies, a medical student undertook a project with a College research group. It was later discovered that the student had submitted the results from his project to a conference as an abstract without having obtained the consent of the PI and other members of the research group. The abstract, which included previously unpublished data about the research group’s work, was published on the conference website, but was swiftly removed by the conference organisers as soon as they were contacted by the College. The student admitted the offence and accepted responsibility for his actions.