Investigation of allegations

It is in the mutual interests of society, the research community, and the researchers, to resolve all allegations of research misconduct. The RCR guidelines published by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity are internal ethical guidelines for the Finnish research community and are used for addressing allegations of the violations of the responsible conduct of research in universities, research institutes, universities of applied sciences, and in other research organisations. The research organisations that have signed the agreement have committed themselves to applying the following procedures to cases of alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research.

The guidelines apply to investigations into the alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research. In addition to research and publications, they also apply to all other types of written works in conjunction with academic work, irrespective of their form of publication. These works include textbooks, funding applications, project applications, poster presentations, evaluations of academic theses, and referee statements.

These guidelines also apply to the investigations of alleged RCR violations in academic theses submitted for a Master’s degree or a higher academic degree, including the higher degrees in the universities of applied sciences, even when the thesis is not published. If the approval of the thesis is pending, or the candidate has not yet been granted permission to defend the thesis, the institution can investigate the allegations by following an internal procedure, unless the researcher suspected of a RCR violation insists on an investigation according to these guidelines.

Research misconduct and disregard for the responsible conduct of research will not expire. However, universities, universities of applied science or research institutions can decide not to conduct an RCR investigation when a significant amount of time has passed since the alleged misconduct and the investigation would no longer affect ethically sustainable research practices, research quality assurance or the legal protection of other parties. On request, The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity will provide a statement regarding the decision made by the institution.

In addition to following these guidelines, the investigations into alleged RCR violations also need to abide by current legislation. The investigations into alleged RCR violations do not handle issues that are related to criminal law, immaterial rights or labour law, or into other legal issues that may be related to the alleged violation. The investigation procedure for alleged violations of the responsible conduct of research involves three steps:

  • A written notification
  • A preliminary inquiry
  • The investigation proper

The most crucial factors ensuring the fairness of the procedure to all parties are:

  • The fairness and the impartiality of the process
  • The hearing of all the involved parties
  • The competence and expediency of the process

This requires that each phase of the procedure be carefully documented and that the parties' right to information and their other rights concerning the procedure are respected. If a party of the procedure does not have a sufficient command of Finnish or Swedish, then the language used during the investigation, for example, in hearings and documents, is the language commonly used by the researcher with the organisation.

The person responsible for the making the decision is the rector of the university, or if the university so decides, the chancellor, or the rector of a university of applied sciences, or the director of the research organisation. This person is also responsible for adhering to the instructions of the procedure during the whole process. The decision making cannot be delegated to another person.

The notification of alleged RCR misconduct is to be sent to the respective university or university of applied sciences or to the research institute in which the research has primarily been conducted. If those alleged of misconduct have worked in several research communities, the handling of the alleged misconduct requires cooperation between the respective organisations, which are to agree amongst themselves as to how to conduct the investigation.

The RCR investigation procedure follows the principles of the Administrative Procedure Act (434/2003). These principles determine, among other matters, the grounds for good administration and for disqualification.

The allegation regarding RCR misconduct and the decisions related to this allegation during the RCR process are to be reported to TENK, so that it can monitor compliance to the guidelines and the state of research integrity in Finland. Although all documents sent to the authorities or produced by them are generally public in accordance with The Act on Openness of Government Activities (621/1999), the research organisation is, when sending the documents to TENK, obliged to take into account the secrecy obligations that apply to the information included in the documents.

For joint international projects that include researchers working in Finnish research communities, in special cases, the investigation does not have to adhere to the Finnish guidelines, but may be conducted according to the guidelines used by the foreign organisation in charge of the project. The Finnish party participating in the project is obliged to contribute to the appropriate investigation of the alleged RCR violation. Additional information on applying the RCR instructions can be obtained from the Secretary General of TENK (See Contact)

A party dissatisfied with the rector’s decision, with the procedures adopted in the preliminary inquiry, in the investigation proper or with the final report, may request a statement from TENK within six months of the date of notification.

1. The allegation of a violation of the responsible conduct of research must be communicated in writing to the rector or to another decision-maker in a similar position (hereafter the rector). This allegation must be submitted to the organisation in which the alleged misconduct has occurred or is presumed to occur. This notification must specify the type of the alleged violation of responsible conduct of research, as well as the grounds for the allegation. This allegation cannot be made anonymously. The rector can also initiate an investigation of allegations that have come to his/her attention from other channels. Furthermore, the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity can also recommend an investigation if it has reason to suspect misconduct within the organisation in question.

2. The rector decides whether to initiate a preliminary inquiry. A preliminary inquiry is unnecessary when: the allegation does not constitute misconduct that falls within the scope of the RCR procedure. it becomes clear without further action that the notification is unfounded, or there is another justified reason for not proceeding, such as a preliminary inquiry that has already been intitiated by another research organisation. A reasoned decision not to initiate an inquiry must be communicated to the instigator of the allegation, to the person alleged of misconduct and to the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity. The party dissatisfied with the decision may request a statement from the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity within six months of the date of being notified of the decision (see Point 12). If a decision is made to conduct the preliminary inquiry, the instigator of the allegation, the person alleged of misconduct and the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity must be notified immediately of the inquiry and of the grounds for it.

3. The purpose of the preliminary inquiry is to initially determine the validity of the allegations of research misconduct that are stated in the notification and the evidence that has been presented to support these allegations.The following parties will need to be heard during the inquiry: The person alleged of misconduct, the instigator of the allegation and, if necessary, experts and other persons involved. The preliminary inquiry must be conducted within three months of receiving the notification, unless there are specific reasons to grant additional time for the completion of the inquiry.

4. On the basis of the preliminary inquiry, if the allegation turns out to be unfounded, the rector will make a reasoned decision to discontinue the investigation process.This decision must be communicated to the person alleged of misconduct, to the instigator of the allegation as well as to the Advisory Board on Research Integrity. This decision may also be made public if so requested by the person alleged of misconduct or if the publishing of it is otherwise deemed necessary. This decision must state that any party dissatisfied with the decision can request a statement from the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity within six months of being notified of the decision (see Point 12). The rector will decide on the potential consequences should the allegations regarding the violation of the RCR be unfounded or malicious.

5. If after the preliminary inquiry, there is still reason to suspect disregard of the responsible conduct of research or research misconduct, the rector must initiate the investigation proper. Conducting this investigation is unnecessary when the inquiry has revealed that a violation of the RCR has occurred, the person alleged of misconduct agrees with the results of the preliminary inquiry, and there is otherwise no other specific reason to conduct the investigation. In this case, the rector will make the decision based on the preliminary inquiry, as stipulated in Point 9. An investigation proper is, however, warranted if the preliminary inquiry has revealed indications of wider-ranging misconduct than was initially suspected.

6. For the investigation proper, the rector will establish an investigation committee and invite the expert members to join, one of whom will be appointed as chair of the committee. The investigation committee must have the necessary expertise in the academic discipline in question, as well as the legal or other expertise required. At least two members of the committee must be external to the organisation conducting the investigation. The appointment of the investigation committee and its activities must be in accordance with the Finnish Administrative Law and its stipulations about conflict of interest. The parties concerned and the Advisory Board on Research Integrity must be notified about the initiation of the investigation proper.

7. The investigation needs to be conducted with expediency. Each phase, such as the hearing of the different parties, must be carefully documented. If the investigation committee has not completed the investigation within six months of it being established, it must submit a report concerning the delay to the rector, who will then make a decision regarding the additional time required.

8. The investigation committee is to submit a final report on its work. This report needs to contain:

a. An account of the events prior to establishing the investigation committee, such as an account of the research or the activities alleged to represent misconduct, as well as the evidence for the allegation

b. An account of the investigation committee’s tasks and activities and of the hearing of the parties

c. A reasoned assessment of the investigation committee to determine whether the suspected activity in each specific allegation in the written notification constitutes a violation against or disregard towards the responsible conduct of research. If a violation has been uncovered, a reasoned assessment needs to be included concerning the nature of the violation towards the responsible conduct of research as well as a reasoned assessment concerning the severity of the violation and its frequency of occurrence

d. When necessary, a list of the research material, results and publications that, in the opinion of the investigation committee, contain a violation against or disregard towards the responsible conduct of research

e. A proposal concerning the publishing of the conclusions of the final report as stipulated in Point 9, and possible proposals on how the consequences of the violation should be rectified. The rector will ask that both the person alleged of misconduct and the instigator of the allegation submit responses to the final report.

9. The Rector will decide on whether or not a violation of the responsible conduct of research has occurred. This decision must be communicated to the person alleged of misconduct, to the instigator of the allegation as well as to the Advisory Board on Research Integrity. This decision must mention that a party dissatisfied with the decision can request a statement from The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity within six months of the decision (see Point 12). If the investigation finds that the misconduct constitutes a violation against the responsible conduct of research, measures must be taken to publish the findings of the final report in a manner deemed appropriate by the committee and when possible, at least in the publication channel where the fraudulent research findings or results based on fraudulent means have already been published. In addition, the reported violation against the responsible conduct of research can lead to other sanctions that the rector is justified or obligated to impose on the basis of, for instance, legislation pertaining to administrative, criminal, labour or contract law. If a violation of the responsible conduct of research has occurred, the sanction for that violation must be in just proportion to the severity of the violation.

10. If the investigation finds that the person alleged of misconduct has not violated the responsible conduct of research, the person alleged of misconduct and the instigator of the allegation must be notified of this decision. Furthermore, an effort must be made to publish the findings of the investigation in an appropriate publication channel if the person alleged of misconduct so desires, or if there are other compelling reasons.

11. If the person alleged of misconduct works in a research organisation other than the one in which the allegation has been handled or receives external research funding, the employer or the funding organisation must be notified of the decision.

12. The person alleged of misconduct or the instigator of the allegation can request a statement from The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity if the said party is dissatisfied with the rector’s decision, the procedures adopted in the preliminary inquiry, with the investigation proper, or with the conclusions of the final report. This request must be justified and it must address the specific questions that are the basis for the statement requested. The RCR process needs to be completed before any requests can be submitted to the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity. No statements will be issued during the interim stages. The request for a statement must be submitted within six months of the decision.

The Advisory Board must process the matter expediently, within five months of receiving the request, on the basis of the documents submitted to it. Furthermore, the Advisory Board must issue a statement addressed to the party that has instigated the process, and this statement must also be delivered to the rector and to the other parties involved.

When compiling the statement, the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity may, if needed, request a written response from the parties concerned and from the investigating organisation. The person requesting the statement is to be given an opportunity to comment on these responses. The Advisory Board's statement and the documents, including the appendices used in compiling this statement are, in principle, publicly available after the statement has been issued.

In its statement, The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity may propose that the rector conduct an additional investigation if there are well-founded reasons for this in the material provided for the preliminary inquiry, in the final report of the investigation proper, or in the information provided by an involved party in its request for a statement.

The Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity may, for well-founded reasons, initiate a further investigation without a request for a statement.

The Advisory Board does not conduct the preliminary inquiry or the investigation proper and it does not arrange hearings.

See the guidelines for formulating a request for a statement.