Best Practices For Preventing Research Misconduct

Research practices necessarily vary across disciplines. To minimize the risk of unethical behavior in research and scholarship, the general practices outlined below, which come from a variety of sources, are recommended as an open framework for the development and discussion of best field-specific research practices within respective departments, centers, and laboratories at MIT. 

Authorship:

  • “Honorary authorship” is never acceptable. Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conceptualization, design, execution, and/or interpretation of the research study. Other individuals who have contributed to the study should be acknowledged, but should not be identified as authors. 1
  • Each coauthor should take responsibility for the full evaluation of procedures and data, including the raw data, and for the conclusion of the paper in his or her area of expertise. Ideally, all authors should take responsibility for the conclusions of the paper as a whole. 1
  • The submitting author should make every effort to ensure that each author has reviewed the manuscript and authorized its submission. The submitting author has the responsibility to coordinate the responses of the group of authors to inquiries and challenges and must assure that all authors have approved the manuscript as published. 1

Data Management and Ownership:

  • Primary and collateral research data should be recorded in a form that allows access for analysis and review. Research data should always be immediately available to scientific collaborators, Principal Investigators, or supervisors for such examination. 1
  • Research records should be sufficiently detailed in order to authenticate the records, reproduce the research results, confirm the validity of the conclusions, and resolve questions or allegations that may arise from honest error or misinterpretation. 2
  • Data organization, file structure, and stable electronic file formats should be used consistently throughout the project. Descriptive names should be assigned to each file that uniquely identifies the contents of that particular file. Quality assurance should be performed on data files prior to sharing, reporting, or publishing. 3
  • Research data, including primary experimental results, should be retained for a sufficient period to allow examination and further analysis by others. 1 Data retention periods depend upon the funding sources for a project or the type of research conducted and may range from three to seven years or longer. Principal Investigators should determine that their data collection systems meet all applicable standards and regulations. 2
  • Everyone participating in the research project should know that MIT owns the intellectual property developed by faculty, students, staff and others, including visitors, participating in MIT programs under a sponsored research agreement with MIT or using significant MIT funds or facilities. When in doubt, it is best to contact the Technology Licensing Office for advice as to ownership. 4
  • When a PI leaves MIT or transfers to another institution, he or she should communicate with his or her Department Head to ensure that all pertinent activities are properly inventoried, closed and/or transferred, and that a complete copy of all appropriate/required records are retained by MIT. 5
  • When MIT students, postdocs, staff or others, including visitors, working on a research project at MIT leave the institute or transfer to another institution, he or she should meet with their Principal Investigator or supervisor prior to departure to ensure that all pertinent activities are properly inventoried, and that all original data are retained by MIT. They may take copies of the data with them if the PI agrees. 5

Training and Responsibilities:

  • Each student engaged in research should have a designated primary research mentor or supervisor. It is the responsibility of this mentor to provide a training environment in which the student has the opportunity to acquire both the conceptual and technical skills of the field. 1
  • The research experience must impart to the student appropriate standards of scientific conduct. The Principal Investigator, mentor and/or supervisor must convey these standards by instruction, by example, and ideally, by written guidelines. 1
  • Principal Investigators should discuss the authorship policies and other intellectual property issues currently used in their research group with potential new members of the group. 1 Additional information concerning intellectual property issues can be obtained by contacting MIT’s Technology Licensing Office.
  • Mentors or supervisors have a responsibility to provide students and postdocs with a realistic appraisal of their performance and with advice about career development and opportunities. 1
  • For each research project, the Principal Investigator should make clear the expected practices and standards for recording, storing, backing up and archiving primary and collateral data, including lab notebooks and electronic information that may reside on lab computers and personal laptops or other devices. 6
  • If a particular discipline includes the use of lab notebooks, they should be permanently bound books with consecutive signed and dated entries. Any attachments (such as graphs or computer printouts) should be signed and dated and permanently affixed to the pages of the notebook. If the data is such that is cannot be affixed to the notebook, a separate signed entry should be made in the notebook indicating the date of the data and where it is located. 7
  • Principal Investigators, mentors or supervisors should conduct regular and frequent meetings with research members to discuss the progress of the research, interpretation of the data, concerns or issues that might arise, problem solving, and any other issues that should be addressed. 8
  • Mentoring and supervising students and technicians are an important step in the career development of postdoctoral and research scientists, but the Principal Investigator should meet with the students and technicians on a regular basis to address any concerns they may have about the work they have been asked to perform by their mentor or supervisor, or how their results are being communicated to the PI.
  • Principal Investigators should have an established practice of reviewing and discussing primary (raw) data in addition to data that has been prepared for meetings or publication. This includes a review of primary data from even the most experienced research members. 6
  • Principal Investigators should be aware of and instruct research members to follow applicable journal guidelines for the preparation and presentation of figures when drafting or submitting a paper for publication.
  • Research supervisors should foster an environment where open discussion of methods and critique of results and conclusions is accepted and welcome, and maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation.

Footnotes:

  1. Fostering Academic Integrity: Report of the Committee on Academic Responsibility. (Also known as the Widnall Report.)  Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, April 15, 1992; pp 10-11. 
  2. Guidelines for Responsible Conduct of Research. University of Pittsburgh, Office of Research Integrity.  Revised March 2011.
  3. MIT Libraries’ Data Management
  4. MIT Policies & Procedures, § 13.1 Ownership of Intellectual Property
  5. When a PI Leaves MIT: PI Transfer Checklist.  M.I.T. Office of Sponsored Programs (Aug. 2013)
  6. On September 28-29, 2006 the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI) held a conference, “New Capabilities, Emerging Issues, and Responsible Conduct in Data Management,” co-sponsored with the University of Maryland. The Director of ORI, Chris B. Pascal, spoke at the conference and outlined “Ten Easy Ways to Commit Research Misconduct and Create Havoc in the Lab.” The suggested best practice listed here is an adaptation of some of Pascal’s talking points.
  7. Chapter 8: Data Management and Laboratory Notebooks
    Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty, Second Edition. Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2006).
  8. Research Best Practices: A guide for University of Nevada, Reno faculty researchers. Prepared by University of Nevada’s Office of the Vice President for Research (Fall 2006).