Horbach, S.P.J.M., et al.
Sci Eng Ethics (2020).
While attention to research integrity has been growing over the past decades, the processes of signalling and denouncing cases of research misconduct remain largely unstudied. In this article, we develop a theoretically and empirically informed understanding of the causes and consequences of reporting research misconduct in terms of power relations. We study the reporting process based on a multinational survey at eight European universities (N = 1126). Using qualitative data that witnesses of research misconduct or of questionable research practices provided, we aim to examine actors’ rationales for reporting and not reporting misconduct, how they report it and the perceived consequences of reporting. In particular we study how research seniority, the temporality of work appointments, and gender could impact the likelihood of cases being reported and of reporting leading to constructive organisational changes. Our findings suggest that these aspects of power relations play a role in the reporting of research misconduct. Our analysis contributes to a better understanding of research misconduct in an academic context. Specifically, we elucidate the processes that affect researchers’ ability and willingness to report research misconduct, and the likelihood of universities taking action. Based on our findings, we outline specific propositions that future research can test as well as provide recommendations for policy improvement.
From the Conclusion:
We also find that contested forms of misconduct (e.g. authorship, cherry picking of data and fabrication of data) are less likely to be reported than more clear-cut instances of misconduct (e.g. plagiarism, text recycling and falsification of data). The respondents mention that minor misbehaviour is not considered worth reporting, or express doubts about the effectiveness of reporting a case when the witnessed behaviour does not explicitly transgress norms, such as with many of the QRPs. Concern about reporting’s negative consequences, such as career opportunities or organisational reputations being harmed, is always taken into considerations.
Secondly, we have theorised the relationship between power differences and researchers’ willingness to report—in particular the role of seniority, work appointments and gender. We have derived a list of seven propositions that we believe warrant testing and refinement in future studies using a larger sample to help with further theory building about power differences and research misconduct.
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