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Research Integrity

Tilburg University is committed to protecting and guaranteeing scientific integrity.

Non-compliance with standards: measures and sanctions

Researchers, supervisors, principal investigators, research directors, managers and the executive board members of the institution must always strive to ensure that the standards are fulfilled scrupulously. Non-compliance with them undermines professional responsibility, which harms the research process and the relationship between individual researchers, and possibly also trust in and the credibility of the research.

Assessment criteria
When the executive board of the institution and the committee or officer referred to in [the next section] are considering the case, the following criteria are particularly important:

  1. the extent of the non-compliance;
  2. the level to which non-compliance was intentional and whether it was a form of gross negligence or was the result of carelessness or ignorance;
  3. the possible consequences for the validity of the research in question and for the prevailing scientific knowledge and scholarship;
  4. the potential effects on the trust in scientific and scholarly research and between researchers;
  5. the potential impact on individuals, society and the environment;
  6. the potential benefits for the researcher or other interested parties;
  7. whether the matter concerns a scientific or scholarly publication, as opposed to a popularizing article, teaching materials or an advisory report;
  8. opinions within the discipline(s) concerning the severity of the non-compliance;
  9. the researcher’s position and experience;
  10. the extent of any prior violations committed by the researcher;
  11. whether the institution itself has failed in its duties of care;
  12. how much time elapsed before action was taken against the non-compliance within or outside the institution.

Sanctions and other measures
If the executive board of the institution suspects non-compliance with one or more standards, it ensures that the case is examined honestly and fairly. If such non-compliance is indeed established after proper investigation, it may be deemed appropriate to impose sanctions or other measures. The nature and extent of these will depend, among other things, upon whether the non-compliance is found to constitute ‘research misconduct’, a ‘questionable research practice’ or a ‘minor shortcoming’. If the suspicion of non-compliance proves unfounded, appropriate remedial measures are taken.

Whenever ‘research misconduct’ is established, the board of the institution must consider whether it is possible and desirable to impose sanctions. Naturally, any sanction must always be appropriate and proportionate. In serious cases, the institution has the powers to impose penalties within its legal powers, such as a formal reprimand, transfer, demotion or dismissal. A person’s authorization to supervise degrees may also be suspended. Furthermore, the institution may deem it necessary to report the matter to the relevant regulatory bodies or to authorities empowered to impose other administrative, disciplinary or criminal sanctions.

Other measures
Regardless of whether a sanction ought to be imposed, it is always important to consider whether other appropriate measures are necessary. This is especially so in the event of repeated non-compliance or more-than-occasional breaches of the standards. Even when there is no reason to impose sanctions, failure to comply with the standards cannot remain undiscussed. Researchers must always hold each other, their subordinates, their supervisors, principal investigators, research directors and managers accountable, to ensure that quality assurance is improved, that recurrence is prevented and that adverse effects are remedied or mitigated (e.g. by rectifying or retracting publications). The institution’s board should take measures itself or ensure that others do so. In this respect, it may make a difference whether the matter is a case of research misconduct, a questionable research practice or a minor shortcoming. It may also prove necessary for the institution to take preventive individual or general measures to ensure that research practices are improved, compliance with all standards is maintained and timely detection will take place (see also the duties of care).

Complaints and investigations
If research misconduct is suspected, a complaint can be submitted to a relevant committee or officer appointed by the institution. The institution ensures that a scrupulous and fair procedure is in place to deal with any such complaint, including any judgement resulting from it. This procedure is also followed if the executive board of the institution itself considers it necessary to investigate possible research misconduct, even without receiving a complaint.
The following basic principles apply to the consideration and investigation of complaints.

  1. Following a complaint or a request by the institution’s board, the matter is investigated by the committee or officer appointed to that end.
  2. In this section, ‘the respondent’ means the person whose conduct is under investigation. This may also be a person who no longer works at or for the institution.
  3. A complaint may only be submitted about a suspected case of research misconduct.
  4. The complaint or request must adequately substantiate why the complainant or petitioner believes that research misconduct has been committed.
  5. Complaints related to methodological discussions and standard academic debates are inadmissible.
  6. An anonymous complaint of alleged research misconduct will be considered only if the executive board of the institution sees good reason to do so because it believes that:
    1. compelling public or institutional interests are at stake, or interests of the respondent so require; and,
    2. the factual basis for the complaint can be investigated without input from the complainant.
  7. The investigating committee or officer can refrain from initiating or continuing an investigation as soon as it becomes clear that the complaint or request:
    1. concerns a purely professional difference of opinion;
    2. is attributable solely to a labour dispute; or,
    3. cannot result in a judgement that the respondent’s actions constitute research misconduct.
  8. The complainant and the respondent may consult a confidential counsellor.
  9. The investigatory procedure regarding the research, as well as any second opinion:
    • shall provide for fair treatment, including hearing both sides and making all relevant information available to both the complainant and the respondent;
    • shall be confidential;
    • shall be organised in such a way that neither the complainant nor the respondent is unnecessarily disadvantaged;
    • shall be completed within a reasonable period of time;
    • shall be conducted by experts with no personal interest in the case; or
    • shall be set down by the institution in a clear, easily accessible regulation.
    1. The procedure described in point 9 shall, if relevant to the institution, include provisions as to when, and under what conditions, the undisclosed components of scientific research or data shall be made available for verification as part of the investigation. Such provisions shall at least state which persons or officers are authorised to carry out verification checks, how they should be carried out and how the findings are to be reported.
    2. Pursuant to section [good research practices], point 12b, the procedure may include provisions stating that, in highly exceptional cases, there may be compelling reasons for components of the research, including data, not to be disclosed to an investigation into alleged research misconduct. Such cases must be recorded and the consent of the board of the institution must be obtained prior to using the components and/or data in question in the scientific research. They must also be mentioned in any results that are made public.
  10. The investigating committee or officer may decide, by way of derogation from point 9, first bullet, to withhold certain information from the complainant and/or the respondent if there are compelling reasons to do so.
  11. The respondent is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
  12. The investigating committee or official judges whether research misconduct has taken place.
  13. After the committee or official has issued its judgement, the executive board of the institution gives its initial judgement on the matter and notifies the complainant and the respondent thereof, in writing and without delay.
  14. The complainant and the respondent may request a second opinion within six weeks, for instance from the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI).
  15. If a second opinion is not requested within six weeks, the executive board of the institution settles on its final judgement. If a second opinion has been requested, the board takes that into consideration in its final judgement.
  16. At the same time as issuing its final judgement, the executive board of the institution determines any sanctions or measures as referred to in the section on sanctions and other measures.
  17. At least in all cases where research misconduct is established, the executive board of the institution ensures that the findings of the investigation and its final judgement are made public in anonymized form.
  18. The board of the institution ensures that the rights of both the complainant and the respondent are protected, and that neither is unnecessarily disadvantaged in their career prospects or otherwise.
  19. The board of the institution is not obliged to arrange legal assistance but may decide to do so.