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Ethical Editor: Wait for a Federal Misconduct Finding before Correction?

At a recent meeting for university and college attorneys, Kathy Partin, PhD, the current director of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), indicated universities and journals should correct the scientific literature before ORI completes its review, regardless of whether the ORI makes a finding of research misconduct. Partin conceded that ORI sometimes declines to pursue cases in which an institution found research misconduct simply because ORI lacks the resources to prove a case. Partin’s comments were at odds with ORI’s long-standing policy that journals “do not have a need to know about allegations of research misconduct.” Historically, ORI has told institutions that ORI will not deem it a breach of the confidentiality required under federal regulations if an institution notifies a journal it has made a finding of research misconduct under the institution’s research-misconduct policy. However, ORI has not indicated that institutions are entitled to provide such notice and maintains its position that ORI’s review of the institution’s findings are confidential. Attorneys representing respondents often allege an institution’s notice to a journal is a breach of the confidentiality required under federal regulations, they are confident the institution’s flawed investigation will not support a federal finding of research misconduct, and any corrective action taken by the journal based on the flawed institutional investigation will be a regulatory breach that exposes the journal to significant legal liability. Based on these threats, some journals have deferred taking corrective action until after ORI completes its review. Such deferral, however, is inconsistent with the […]

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