Unethical behavior in research and scholarship strikes at the heart of the scholarly and educational enterprise. A shared understanding of expectations and responsibilities is, therefore, critical — not only to the quality of the research enterprise but also to the collegial life of this community. The appropriate institutional response to research misconduct will vary with the facts and circumstances of each case. In addition to requiring correction of the research record, MIT has recourse to a variety of disciplinary actions against individuals whose conduct violates this Policy, including, in severe cases and following applicable Institute procedures, expulsion of a student, termination of an employee, or revocation of tenure.
Supervisors must enforce the highest standards for conducting research and creating and maintaining records of the research. The risk of misconduct occurring increases in an environment where there is a lack of supervision. Specifically, laboratory and center directors and department heads, faculty supervisors, and principal investigators should clearly articulate standards and protocols for research, scholarship, and creative work, through discussion and review of research, and, when possible, with written guidelines that adhere to best practices.
- Research misconduct is fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in research activities or deliberate interference. It does not include honest error or differences of opinion.
- Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
- Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the Research Record.
- Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
- Deliberate Interference is intentionally causing material harm to the research or scholarly work of others, and may include damaging or destroying the property of others, such as research equipment or supplies; disrupting active experiments; or altering or deleting products of research, including data.
- Research Misconduct at MIT is Research Misconduct in connection with Research Activities conducted at MIT or by MIT faculty, staff, fellows, students, and others with MIT appointments elsewhere as part of their MIT-related duties or activities.
- Research Activities is proposing, conducting, reviewing, or reporting the results of research or other scholarly inquiry.
- Research Record is the record of data or results that embody the facts resulting from scientific or other scholarly inquiry and includes, but is not limited to, research proposals, laboratory records (both physical and electronic), progress reports, abstracts, theses, oral presentations, internal reports, and journal articles.
- Complainant is an individual who reports allegations of Research Misconduct.
- Respondent is an individual who is the subject of allegations of Research Misconduct at MIT.
- MIT Advisor is an MIT community member of the Respondent’s choice, not the Respondent’s family member, subordinate or attorney, who may participate and provide support to a Respondent in any meeting in connection with a review under this Policy. The role of the MIT Advisor is to provide support and guidance, not to be a substitute for the Respondent, who is the primary participant.
- Preponderance of the Evidence is proof by information that, compared with the information opposing it, leads to a conclusion that the fact at issue is more probably true than not.
Each member of the MIT community has a responsibility to report any conduct that he or she believes in good faith to be Research Misconduct at MIT. Ordinarily it is appropriate in the first instance for a Complainant to report his or her concerns to the supervisor of the prospective Respondent. There may be circumstances in which, prior to taking that action, it would be appropriate for the Complainant to discuss his or her concerns with the prospective Respondent. Consultation and guidance is always available from the Office of the Vice President for Research or from senior academic officers (deans, department heads, laboratory directors).
All allegations of Research Misconduct, wherever initially received, must be conveyed promptly to the Office of the Vice President for Research. A supervisor who becomes aware of possible Research Misconduct, either from his or her own observations or because of reports, has a responsibility to bring allegations of Research Misconduct directly to the Vice President for Research in order to ensure that proper procedures are followed. If a supervisor feels that the Vice President for Research is not the appropriate official to whom to report allegations in a particular case, the allegations may be reported to the Provost. If a Complainant reports allegations to a supervisor and the supervisor fails to forward the allegations to the Office of the Vice President for Research or the Provost, then the Complainant should report the allegations to the Vice President for Research or the Provost directly.
Upon receipt of an allegation of Research Misconduct, the Vice President for Research will conduct an initial assessment of the allegations, to determine whether the alleged misconduct falls within the scope of this Policy. The Vice President for Research may appoint an impartial fact finder with appropriate expertise to conduct this initial assessment and to make a recommendation to the Vice President for Research. If the Vice President for Research determines that the allegations do not fall within this Policy, the Vice President for Research will either close the matter or refer it to another office at MIT with authority or responsibility over the matter. If the Vice President for Research determines that the allegations do fall within this Policy, the Vice President for Research will initiate a two-stage review process under this Policy. The decision of the Vice President for Research to initiate or not to initiate a review is final.
The first stage of review under this Policy consists of preliminary fact-finding (the “Inquiry”) to decide whether to recommend to the Provost a further, formal review. If after the Inquiry, there is a decision to initiate a further review by the Provost, the Institute will proceed to a second stage of review, which entails a formal investigation leading to a recommendation whether or not the Institute should make a finding of Research Misconduct in violation of this Policy (the “Investigation”).
This Policy sets forth general guidelines for the two stages of review, recognizing that the specific procedures to govern review of any particular allegation of Research Misconduct will depend on the circumstances of the case. In addition, the Vice President for Research may deviate from the guidelines expressed in this Policy, in his or her discretion, for reasons of fairness or confidentiality or to maintain the integrity of the process.
The procedures described in this Policy are consistent with requirements that apply to the review and reporting of allegations of scientific misconduct arising in the context of certain federally sponsored research, but additional requirements for such cases are set forth in the Supplement to MIT Procedures for Dealing with Research Misconduct, available on the Vice President for Research website.
In order to enter a finding of Research Misconduct, MIT must determine by a Preponderance of the Evidence:
- that the Respondent engaged in Research Misconduct;
- that the Research Misconduct marked a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant academic community; and
- that the Respondent committed the Research Misconduct intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.
The Inquiry consists of information gathering and fact-finding to determine as a preliminary matter whether an allegation of Research Misconduct warrants further, formal review. The Inquiry should follow promptly, if called for, after the Vice President for Research’s initial assessment of the allegations. The Vice President for Research will appoint one or more impartial fact finders to conduct the Inquiry. Fact finders are not required to be members of the MIT community. At this time, the Vice President for Research will provide written notice to the Respondent that an Inquiry has been initiated. The written notice ordinarily summarizes the allegations under review and advises the Respondent of his or her right to select an MIT Advisor to support him or her in the course of the proceedings.
Either before or when the Respondent is notified, the Office of the Vice President for Research will promptly take all reasonable and practical steps to obtain custody of all the records and other evidence needed to conduct proceedings under this Policy and will sequester them in a secure manner. The Office of the Vice President for Research will provide Respondent with reasonable, supervised access to the records or, when appropriate, copies of the records. The Office of the Vice President for Research may seek additional records or other materials that may be potentially relevant during the course of the review. Oversight for the Inquiry process will be provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research.
The Inquiry should, to the extent reasonably possible, be limited to a review of documentary materials. The fact that an Inquiry has been initiated should be made known only to the Respondent and other persons with a need to know.
At the conclusion of the Inquiry, the fact finder or fact-finding committee will prepare a draft written report summarizing the process and information reviewed and recommending whether to proceed with an Investigation. The recommendation to proceed should be based on whether there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the allegations may have substance and that Research Misconduct may have occurred based on the information reviewed. In either case, the Respondent will be given a copy of the draft Inquiry report and an opportunity to respond within a reasonable time period set by the Vice President for Research. Such response will be reviewed by the fact finder or fact-finding committee before finalizing the Inquiry report. In addition, any comments provided by the Respondent will be included as an appendix to the final Investigation report. The final Inquiry report will be forwarded to the Vice President for Research.
The Vice President for Research will review the Inquiry report and may ask the fact finder or fact-finding committee for additional review or explanation. If this additional review by the fact finder(s) results in revisions to the report, the Respondent will have a further opportunity to submit written comments before any supplemental final Inquiry report is resubmitted to the Vice President for Research.
The Vice President for Research will submit a final Inquiry report to the Provost along with his or her recommendation whether or not to proceed with an Investigation. The Provost will then decide whether or not to proceed with an Investigation. The Vice President for Research will send written notice to the Respondent of the Provost’s decision to proceed with an Investigation. The Complainant, if known, will be informed whether an Investigation will or will not be initiated.
An Investigation must be initiated and completed in a reasonable time period consistent with a complete and thorough Investigation. The Vice President for Research initiates an Investigation by appointing an impartial Investigator or Investigation Committee, which may include one or more persons from outside the Institute, to conduct the Investigation. The Vice President for Research will provide written notice to the Respondent that the Investigation has been initiated. The written notice will summarize the allegations, identify the investigators and advise the Respondent of his or her right to the support of an MIT Advisor in the investigation. As the Investigation proceeds, the Office of the Vice President for Research should provide the Respondent with reasonable updates and opportunities to respond to information obtained in the investigation.
Oversight of the Investigation and specific guidance as it proceeds will be provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research.
The Investigation consists of a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant information to determine if Research Misconduct occurred. The Investigation will typically include an examination of all relevant documentation and interviews of individuals who may have relevant information about the research in question. The Investigator or Investigation Committee is privy to the Inquiry findings but is not bound by the findings of the Inquiry.
The Vice President for Research will review the Investigation report and may ask the Investigator or Investigation Committee for additional review or explanation. If this results in revisions to the report, the Respondent will have a further opportunity to submit written comments before any supplemental final Inquiry report is resubmitted to the Vice President for Research.
The Vice President for Research will submit the final Investigation report to the Provost along with his or her recommendation whether or not the Institute should make a finding of Research Misconduct. If the Vice President for Research recommends a finding of Research Misconduct, he or she will also recommend disciplinary actions to be taken. If the Provost determines that Research Misconduct has occurred, the Provost shall decide on appropriate disciplinary actions, which may include, but are not limited to, formal reprimand, suspension, change in MIT status, and termination of employment. In the case of the revocation of tenure of a faculty member, MIT’s policy for termination of a faculty member applies (see Section 3.4.2 of MIT Policies and Procedures).
The Vice President for Research will provide written notice of the Provost’s decision to the Respondent. The Complainant, if known, will be informed whether there was a finding of Research Misconduct. However, MIT officials will not notify the Complainant of any disciplinary action taken.
The Provost has the authority to mitigate the effects of the misconduct, including withdrawing MIT’s name and sponsorship from pending abstracts and papers, notifying individuals known to have relied upon research that was affected by the misconduct, and taking formal steps to correct or retract publications and the Research Record. If there is no finding of Research Misconduct, reasonable efforts should be made to restore and protect the reputation of the Respondent. The Provost’s decision at any stage of the process within this Policy is not subject to appeal.
Fact Finders and Investigators
To the extent reasonably feasible, the Vice President for Research should ensure that fact finders and investigators (1) have sufficient expertise to carry out a thorough evaluation of the relevant information and (2) have no real or perceived conflicts of interest that could affect their ability to be objective reviewers.
Proceedings concerning Research Misconduct often raise difficult issues for those making the allegations, for those who are the subject of the allegations, and for those responsible for reviewing the allegations. Review of the allegations should therefore be conducted promptly and with care and sensitivity.
All participants in the review process under this Policy are expected to maintain confidentiality to protect the privacy of all involved, to the extent possible and as permitted by law. Participants should keep in mind the effect that allegations can have on reputations, even if the allegations are not sustained by the proceedings. Thus, only those people with a need to know should be informed of a complaint.
No one shall be retaliated against for participating in a review of a misconduct allegation in good faith as a Complainant, a witness, a factfinder, or investigator or in any other capacity. Retaliation is typically a significant adverse action taken against an individual because the individual participated in a review process. Retaliation is a serious offense. A complaint of retaliation may be investigated and may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including terminating the individual’s relationship with the Institute.
False Accusations or Testimony
A false or unfounded report of misconduct determined by the Institute to have been made in bad faith and dishonesty in the context of an Inquiry or Investigation are serious offenses. Such offenses may themselves be investigated and may lead to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment or other affiliation with MIT.
Duty to Cooperate and Preserve and Produce Information
All members of the MIT community must cooperate with efforts to review allegations of Research Misconduct. While the destruction or absence of, or failure to provide upon request, information relating to allegations of Research Misconduct is not misconduct per se, such failure may be considered to be evidence supporting a finding of Research Misconduct when the evidence shows the Respondent had relevant information and intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly destroyed it; had the opportunity to maintain the information but did not do so; or maintained the information and failed to produce it in a timely manner in connection with a Research Misconduct proceeding, with the result that the Respondent significantly departed from accepted practices of the relevant academic community.
The Office of the Vice President for Research is the custodian of records relating to proceedings under this Policy.
Notice to Sponsors
To the extent a sponsor requires notification from MIT that research it funded has become the subject of proceedings under this Policy, the Vice President for Research will supply that notification. In addition, the Vice President for Research will give applicable sponsors written notice of any decision of the Provost entering a finding of Research Misconduct at MIT.
If a student is involved in the review of an allegation of Research Misconduct (whether as a Complainant, as a Respondent, or as a person from whom information about allegations is obtained), fact finders and investigators must seek guidance from the Office of the Vice President for Research regarding the legal and policy requirements that may apply.
Except as they may be subject to the requirements of the Supplement governing federally funded research, allegations of Research Misconduct by students will be addressed in accordance with Section 10.2 of MIT Policies and Procedures (“Procedures for Dealing with Student Academic Dishonesty”).