6,515: Ethical Standards in the Conduct of Research

Revised: January 2024

Scholars and researchers bear the primary responsibility for the monitoring and rigorous evaluation of procedures and results of research and other scholarly activities under their supervision. All members of the university community shall adhere to the university's strict standards of integrity of academic scholarship and research and must feel ethically obligated to report (in accordance with the procedures set forth in this policy) any fraudulent acts when they are known or are suspected to have occurred. Scholarly misconduct can neither be condoned nor tolerated at the University of Nevada, Reno.

A. Rights and Responsibilities of Scholars and Researchers:

1. Within the framework of the existing policies of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) and the University, including review guidelines, scholars and researchers are free to:

a. Choose the subject of research or scholarly activity;
b. Seek the resources necessary to conduct such activity, and to exercise control over those resources;
c. Initiate and conduct such activity;
d. Disseminate the results of such activity in an appropriate manner.

2. With the freedom to conduct and manage scholarly activities and research comes the academic responsibility for:

a. Maintaining professional integrity within and external to the University;
b. Honoring professional obligations to the University and, when relevant, to external funding entities.

B. Ethical Standards of Performance in Research and Scholarship:

Researchers and scholars shall seek to uphold the following general ethical standards in the performance of their activities:

1. Project directors must comply with all internal and external requirements for protecting the public, human subjects and project personnel, and for ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals.

2. Scholars and researchers must not fall below accepted professional standards in proposing their activities, carrying them out, and reporting their results. Primary data must be scrupulously collected and retained.

3. All participants in scholarly/research activity must avoid both intentional and negligent behavior which may result in violation of the law; dishonesty or fraud; fabrication, falsification, or misrepresentation of data; or plagiarism.

4. Cooperative efforts require mutual attention to the integrity of the scholarly processes involved. Joint authorship entails joint responsibility; each author claiming shared credit must be aware of the risk of shared discredit.

5. Senior scholars and researchers must avoid exploitation of junior colleagues and students. Claims of credit and co-authorship should reflect actual involvement, responsibility, and effort.

6. Project directors must be free to manage their sponsored funding to the maximum extent allowed by the funding agency and the rules of the University yet, they must be knowledgeable of and responsive to the demands and requirements of financial responsibility and accountability.

7. Present or proposed activities or relationships which may present a conflict of interest, affect the objectivity of research or scholarship, give the appearance of being motivated by private financial gain, or involve unacceptable commitments for a scholar/researcher, must be disclosed and approved at the appropriate administrative levels prior to a commitment to or initiation of such activities or relationships.

8. As part of its efforts to promote research integrity, the University provides training in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) that covers the following nine instructional areas:

a. Data Acquisition, Management, Sharing and Ownership
b. Conflict of Interest and Commitment
c. Human Subjects
d. Animal Welfare
e. Research Misconduct
f. Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship
g. Mentor/Trainee Responsibilities
h. Peer Review; and
i. Collaborative Science

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) require training in the RCR for certain types of grants. Research faculty will participate in RCR instruction in ways that will foster their role as mentors.

NSF requirements apply to all undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers who will be supported by NSF to conduct research. The University will verify that those students (undergraduates and graduates) and postdoctoral researchers who receive NSF funds (support from salary and/or stipends to conduct research on NSF grants) will obtain RCR training.

NIH policy requires that all trainees, fellows, participants, and scholars receiving support through any NIH training, career development award (individual or institutional), research education grant, and dissertation research grant must receive instruction in responsible conduct of research.

C. Definitions:

1. For the purposes of this policy, the operant definition of "misconduct," "scholarly misconduct," or "scientific misconduct" shall be consistent with the prohibited activities as set forth in Chapter 6 of the NSHE Code and with supplementary definitions herein or which specifically address the requirements of federal agencies. As per the Code of Federal Regulations, a finding of research misconduct requires that:

a. There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community for maintaining the integrity of the research record; and
b. The research misconduct be committed intentionally, knowingly, or reckless disregard of accepted practices; and
c. The allegation be proven by a preponderance of evidence.  [42 CFS 93.104]

2. Research misconduct is committed with a "reckless disregard of accepted practices" when an individual makes a false, fabricated, or plagiarized representation with a conscious disregard as to whether or not the representation is true, accurate, or requires attribution to another. Such disregard can be demonstrated by evidence that the representation is in fact false, misleading, fabricated, or plagiarized, and any one or more of the following:

a. The individual was aware of the probable falsity, misleading nature, fabrication, or source of the representation, and the individual failed to take reasonable steps to investigate and correct the false, misleading, fabricated, or plagiarized representation;
b. The individual entertained serious doubts as to the truth, accuracy or sources of the representation, and the individual failed to act reasonably in dispelling those doubts;
c. There were obvious reasons to doubt the truth, accuracy, or source of the representation, and the individual failed to act reasonably in dispelling those doubts;
d. The quantity and substance of irregularities or departures from standard practice in the research community by the individual, including the period of time over which they occurred, or the individual's indifference for the integrity of the research data and images, demonstrate the unreliability of the representation.

3. Section 6.2.1 of the NSHE Code cites grounds for instituting disciplinary action against "all members of the faculty of the System" Specific to this policy is the prohibition against "acts of academic dishonesty, including but not limited to cheating, plagiarism, falsifying research data or results, or assisting others to do the same."

4. Research misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

a. "Fabrication" is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
b. "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.
c. "Plagiarism" is the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.
d.  Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.  [42 CFR 93.103]

Any ideas, processes, results, or words not originating with the author and developed specifically for the work at hand should be credited appropriately.

5. Except as stated under Ethical Standards in Section B.1, this policy does not cover other transgressions such as:

a. Intentional misuse of public funds;
b. Failure to meet other material legal requirements governing research.

Allegations and instances of misconduct in these areas are covered by the policies and practices of the applicable committees and/or organizational units responsible for oversight and control.

D. Procedures for Dealing with Allegations of Misconduct or Violations of Ethical Standards in Research and Scholarship:

Allegations of misconduct shall be dealt with in strict accordance with the provisions of Chapter 6 of the NSHE Code. Allegations of misconduct in research or other projects sponsored by applicable federal regulatory agencies are specifically addressed in section E.

The following procedural statements incorporate the appropriate sections of the NSHE Code in delineating the university's administrative process for the reporting of allegations of scholarly misconduct; for the fair, swift, and accurate consideration of such allegations; and for initiating the actions recommended after the consideration of allegations is complete. These statements further incorporate the practices and procedures required under the compliance rules issued by the applicable federal regulatory and federal funding agencies.

1. Confidentiality: The maintenance of confidentiality is the guiding principle for this process, to protect both those who make the allegations and those against whom the allegations are made. As few people as are reasonable shall be involved in the process, and all records dealing with an allegation, its review, and its disposition shall be treated in accordance with Sections 5.6, 6.14 and 6.15 of the NSHE Code.

2. Reporting of Allegations: Reports of allegations of research misconduct must be filed with the Vice President for Research and Innovation (VPRI) as the designated university administrative officer for complaints of research misconduct in accordance with NSHE Code 6.7.1. Allegations must be in writing and must contain the elements of information as required in NSHE Code 6.8.1. Allegations, written or otherwise, involving faculty, post-doctoral scholars, graduate or undergraduate students shall be forwarded by the VPRI, or their designee, to the Provost's Office within 10 days of receipt of the initial allegation. 

3. Inquiry: The inquiry is the initial step after an allegation is made. An inquiry consists of preliminary information-gathering and preliminary fact-finding to determine whether the allegation or apparent instance of misconduct warrants an investigation. It is an informal process intended to assess the probable validity of the allegation. It is performed by the VPRI to whom the allegation was made. They may seek the advice and assistance of the Director, Research Integrity, Associate Vice President, Compliance and Research Administration;  subject matter experts, and/or scientific peers of the individual about whom the allegations are made. The VPRI will ensure all reporting requirements are met and will be responsible for maintaining files of all documents and evidence and for the confidentiality and security of the files.

4. Investigation: An investigation is a formal development, examination, and evaluation of a factual record to determine whether misconduct has occurred and, if so, its extent. If on the basis of the inquiry, it appears that an investigation is warranted, the VPRI will initiate a formal investigation and the following steps shall be undertaken:

a. The VPRI, as the administrative officer, shall investigate the report of research misconduct pursuant to the provisions in NSHE Code 6.8.2, with the purpose of clarifying the facts and the positions taken by the parties. The investigation shall be completed within 60 calendar days after receipt of the complaint. NSHE Code 6.8.2 (a).
b. If deemed appropriate to do so, the VPRI, with the approval of the President, may informally resolve the complaint. NSHE Code 6.8.2 (c).
c. Within 5 calendar days of the completion of the investigation, and if the complaint is not informally resolved, the VPRI shall recommend to the President whether the complaint should proceed to a hearing and, if a hearing is recommended, the VPRI shall recommend whether a general or special hearing be held. NSHE Code 6.8.2 (d).
d. A hearing shall be held whenever the President accepts the VPRI's recommendation to that effect or does not accept a contrary recommendation from the VPRI. The President shall decide the kind of hearing to be held, as authorized under Section 6.8.3 of the Code. NSHE Code 6.8.2 (e).
e. If the decision is made to proceed with a general or special hearing, the VPRI shall schedule the hearing in accordance with the NSHE Code section 6.9. The VPRI shall also notify the Office of Sponsored Projects of the pending action, so that any required notifications to funding agencies may be accomplished.
f. In the case of a general hearing, a general hearing officer shall be appointed as specified in the NSHE Code 6.10. In the case of a special hearing, the hearing officer and committee shall be appointed as specified in the NSHE Code 6.11. For hearings dealing with allegations of research misconduct, the following special considerations shall be made concerning the selection of the hearing committee.

i. Care must be taken to ensure that there are no real or apparent conflicts of interest on the part of the committee members.
ii. In the case of a special hearing, the special hearing committee should include persons having sufficient acquaintance with research and scholarship in the discipline in question so that the allegation may be properly assessed.

g. All procedures concerning inquiry, findings, disposition, and appeal shall be in strict accordance with the appropriate provisions of Chapter 6 of the NSHE Code.

E. Special Procedures for Dealing with Allegations of Misconduct in Science Relating to Research or Other Projects Sponsored by Applicable Federal Agencies:

The following procedures apply to allegations of misconduct made against University of Nevada, Reno faculty investigators, associates, and other personnel in connection with work on a research or other sponsored project supported by applicable federal regulatory or funding agency.

The University shall comply with the established administrative process for reviewing, investigating, and reporting allegations of misconduct in research as set forth in Chapter 6 of the NSHE Code. The University also shall supplement and modify practices and procedures within its authority in order to meet any special requirements set forth in the compliance rules of funding agencies. The following are summaries of special requirements of 42 CFR Part 93, Subparts A-E: Public Health Service Policies on Research Misconduct.

1. Institutional Assurance: The University, through the Office of the VPRI, shall submit annually to the PHS Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI) and HHS Office of Research Integrity (RIO):

a. An assurance of compliance;
b. Such aggregate information on allegations, inquiries, and investigations as may be prescribed;
c. A copy of this policy, if requested.

2. Role of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation: It is essential that the VPRI be informed immediately upon disclosure of allegations of research misconduct if these allegations in any way involve project activities sponsored by an applicable federal regulatory or funding agency. The VPRI must initiate an inquiry and determine whether an investigation is warranted. All allegations and subsequent administrative acts must be adequately documented and maintained for a period of 7 years. The VPRI shall also be responsible for coordinating and submitting all notifications and reports required under 42 CFR Part 93, Subpart C, Section 300-319.

3. Specific Requirements for Inquiries, Investigations, and Reporting: In following its established procedures, the University shall ensure that the following specific requirements are met:

a. Immediate, thorough, competent, objective and fair inquiry into an allegation or other evidence of possible misconduct to determine whether an investigation is warranted and completion of the inquiry within 60 calendar days of its initiation unless circumstances clearly warrant a longer period. [42 CFR 93.307 (g)] The VPRI may seek the advice and assistance of the Director, RIO, subject matter experts, and/or scientific peers of the individual about whom the allegations are made.
b. Protecting, to the maximum extent possible, the privacy of those who in good faith report apparent misconduct. [42 CFR 93.108; 42 CFR 93.300 (d)]
c. Prompt and timely notice to the respondent of the allegations. [42 CFR 93.304]
d. Providing the respondent an opportunity to provide written comments on the institution's inquiry report. [42 CFR 93.304]
e. Providing the respondent an opportunity to provide written comments on the draft report of the investigation, and provisions for the institutional investigation committee, comprised of the VPRI, the dean of the respondent's school or college, and the Director, RIO, to consider and address the comments before issuing the final report. [42 CFR 93.304]
f. RIO will take the following specific steps to obtain, secure, and maintain the research records. "Research records" means any data or results that embody the facts resulting from scholarly inquiry. A research record includes, but is not limited to, grant and contract applications, whether funded or unfunded; grant or contract progress and other reports; laboratory notebooks; notes; correspondence; videos; photographs; X-ray records; slides; experimental materials; computer files and printouts; manuscripts and publications; equipment use logs; laboratory procurement records; animal facility records; human and animal subject protocols; consent forms; medical charts; and patient research files. The RIO will:

i. Take all reasonable and practical steps to obtain custody of all research records and evidence needed to conduct research misconduct inquiry;
ii. Inventory any received materials;
iii. Store in a secure manner, except in those cases where the research records or evidence encompass scientific instruments shared by a number of uses, in which case custody may be limited to copies of the data or evidence on such instruments, so long as those copies are substantially equivalent to the evidentiary value of the instruments;
iv. Undertake all reasonable and practical efforts to take custody of additional research records and evidence discovered during the course of the research misconduct inquiry. [42 CFR 93.305; 42 CFR 93.304]

g. Affording the affected individual(s) confidential treatment to the extent possible, a prompt and thorough investigation, and an opportunity to comment on allegations and findings of the inquiry and/or the investigation. [42 CFR 93.108; 42 CFR 93.300 (e); 42 CFR 307 (f); 42 CFR 93.312 (a)]
h. Notification of applicable federal regulatory agency when, on the basis of the initial inquiry, it is determined that an investigation is warranted. [42 CFR 93.309 (a); 42 CFR 93.310 (b)]
i. Notification of applicable federal regulatory agency immediately upon obtaining any reasonable indication of possible violations of civil or criminal law. [42 CFR 93.318(d)]
j. Maintaining for a period of at least 7 years sufficiently detailed information of inquiries to permit a later assessment of the reasons for determining that an investigation was not warranted [42 CFR 93.309 (c)].
k. Undertaking an investigation by the VPRI, who may be assisted by the Director, RIO, subject matter experts, and/or scientific peers of the respondent within 30 days of the completion of the inquiry, if findings from that inquiry provide sufficient basis for conducting an investigation. [42 CFR 93.310 (a)]
l. Securing the necessary and appropriate expertise to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant evidence in an inquiry or investigation. [42 CFR 93.306 (a)-(c)]
m. Taking precautions against real or apparent conflicts of interest on the part of those involved in the inquiry or investigation. [42 CFR 93.300 (a); 42 CFR 93.310 (f)]
n. Preparing and maintaining the documentation to substantiate the investigation's findings. [42 CFR 93.310 (e)]
o. Taking interim administrative actions, as appropriate, to protect federal funds and ensure that the purposes of the federal financial assistance are carried out. [42 CFR 93.100]
p. Keeping the applicable federal regulatory agency apprised of any developments during the course of the investigation which disclose facts that may affect current or potential funding or that the agency needs to know to ensure appropriate use of federal funds an otherwise protect the public interest. [42 CFR 93.304 (i)]
q. Undertaking diligent efforts, as appropriate, to restore the reputations of persons alleged to have engaged in misconduct when allegations are not confirmed, and also undertaking diligent efforts to safeguard the positions and reputations of those persons who, in good faith, make allegations as well as informants. [42 CFR 93.300 (d)]
r. Dealing promptly with evidence of misconduct when an allegation of misconduct has been substantiated. [42 CFR 93.300 (c)]
s. Notifying the applicable federal regulatory agency of the final outcome of the investigation. [42 CFR 93.315 (a)-(d)]
t. Institutional actions in response to final findings of research misconduct:

i. Request disciplinary action pursuant to Chapter 6 of the NSHE Code;
ii. Contact the appropriate dean/director to request withdrawal or correction of relevant publication;
iii. Notify individuals aware of or involved in the inquiry or investigation of the final outcome of no finding of research misconduct [42 CFR 93.304]

u. The institution shall cooperate with HHS and the federal ORI during the oversight review and in any subsequent administrative hearings or appeals and will provide all materials, records and evidence under its control, custody or possession, as requested. [42 CFR 93.304]

4. Requirements for Reporting:

a. A decision to initiate an investigation must be reported in writing to the director of applicable federal regulatory agency, on or before the date the investigation begins. [42 CFR 93.310 (b)]
b. An investigation should ordinarily be completed within 120 days of its initiation. [42 CFR 93.311 (a)]
c. If an inquiry or investigation is to be terminated for any reason without completing all relevant requirements under 42 CFR 93.300-93.319, documentation of the decision not to complete the inquiry or investigation must be kept for 7 years to permit a later assessment by ORI of the reasons why the institution made such decision. [42 CFR 93.309 (c)]
d. Notice must be given to ORI regarding the university's findings and actions and must include the following:

i. A copy of the investigation report, all attachments and any appeals;
ii. A statement of whether the institution found research misconduct, and if so, who committed the misconduct;
iii. A statement of whether the institution accepts the investigation's findings;
iv. A description of any pending or completed administrative actions against the respondent. [42 CFR 93.315 (a)-(d)]

e. If it is determined that it will not be possible to complete the investigation in 120 days, a written request for extension must be submitted to applicable federal regulatory agency. The request must include an explanation for the delay. If the ORI grants an extension for good cause, the ORI may direct the institution to file periodic progress reports. [42 CFR 93.314 (b)-(c)]
f. Applicable federal regulatory agency will review the final report to determine whether the investigation has been performed in a timely manner and with sufficient objectivity, thoroughness, and competence. Applicable federal regulatory agency may then request clarification or additional information and take any other actions necessary to complete its own review. [42 CFR 93.403 (a)-(h)]
g. In addition to sanctions the University may decide to impose, the Department of Health and Human Services may also impose sanctions of its own upon investigators or the University based upon authorities it possesses or may possess. [42 CFR 93.404]
h. Immediate notification to the applicable federal regulatory agency must be made if it is ascertained at any stage of the inquiry or investigation that any of the following conditions exist: [42 CFR 93.318]

i. There is an immediate health hazard involved; [42 CFR 93.318 (a)]
ii. There is an immediate need to protect federal funds or equipment; [42 CFR 93.318 (b)]
iii. There is an immediate need to protect the interests of the person(s) making the allegations or of the individual(s) who is the subject of the allegations as well as their co-investigators and associates, if any; [42 CFR 93.318 (e)]
iv. It is probable that the alleged incident is going to be reported publicly; [42 CFR 93.318 (f)]
v. There is reasonable indication of violations of civil or criminal law. [42 CFR 93.318].