Research misconduct

The term research misconduct usually refers to fabricating, falsifying, plagiarizing or stealing scientific data and results, that is, cheating in various ways. During recent years, many cases exemplifying such behavior have undergone review in the media. Such cases can also be described as deviations from good research practice. Good research practice rests on some fundamental principles: that one can be assured that research is of high quality; that research is conducted and reported in a truthful way and with respect to important societal values; and that researchers take responsibility for their research and its consequences. 

As the state and its citizens, as well as commercial interests, require dependable scientific results, while it is also important that the public retain its trust in research, it is a self-evident fact that every researcher should strive after honest conduct. The Higher Education Act states that trust in science and good research practice shall be upheld by the universities.


In the Act on responsibility for good research practice and the examination of research misconduct the following definition is employed:

a serious deviation from good research practice in the form of fabrication, falsification or plagiarism that is committed intentionally or through gross negligence when planning, conducting or reporting research.

The European Code of Conduct for Research Intregrity explains the central notions in this way:

• Fabrication is making up results and recording them as if they were real.

• Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment or processes or changing, omitting or suppressing data or results without justification.

• Plagiarism is using other people’s work and ideas without giving proper credit to the original source, thus violating the rights of the original author(s) to their intellectual outputs.

Investigations of deviations from good research practice

The 1 of January the Act on examination of research misconduct come into force. The National Board for Assessment of Research Misconduct is an authority given the mission to investigate possible cases of research misconduct, thereby furthering trust in Swedish research.

A case can be initiated in three ways:
    1.  through a case being referred from a university,  
    2.  through a report sent to the authority, or 
    3.  by being initiated by the authority itself.

The authority shall only investigate cases of possible misconduct, cases of other deviations from good research practice than misconduct must be investigated or handled by the universities themselves (HF 17 §). The act (2019:504) makes clear that a researcher is responsible for following good practice and that the overall responsibilty for research activities lies with the university. A guide for how to work at the universities with misconduct and other deviations from good research practice has been created by SUHF.

Possible consequences - which can consist of, for example, a warning, salary deduction, termination notice, dismissal, or notification of prosecution - are determined by the president and/or the college or university's personnel committee.

When facing suspicious research, it is of course possible to alert the journal or publisher that have published the research findings. Guidance for how to cooperate around an investigation has been issued by COPE (Cooperation between research institutions and journals) as well as in a later article: Cooperation And Liaison Between Universities And Editors (CLUE).

How long after the alleged misconduct can an allegation be forwarded? In Sweden, there is in the Act a limits of 10 years unless there are particular resons for going back even longer.  

International guidelines

OECD has issued Best Practices for Ensuring Scientific Integrity and Preventing Misconduct. CIOMS have then issued International guidelines on good governance practice for research institutions. The InterAcademy Council has issued a report on responsible conduct in a globalized research setting. European Group on Ethics has a statement as well.

How to protect the integrity of the research record is described in the RePAIR Consensus Guidelines

In international research collaborations, differences within and between national policies might create challenges when misconduct is suspected. To handle those, OECD has issued the guideline Investigating Research Misconduct Allegations in International Collaborative Research Projects.

Last modified: 2023-12-03