Research Misconduct in Australia: Part 2

Recommendations for Creating a World-leading Research Integrity Watchdog with Teeth
by Kristen Scicluna

Australia needs a research integrity watchdog, but what would a best-practice regulatory body look like? Using world-leading examples from five nations, this report makes nine recommendations for the design of an independent research integrity watchdog that would enable Australia to effectively tackle research misconduct.

Of the 20 countries that produce the most research in the world, Australia is one of the few that doesn’t have an independent body to oversee the ethical conduct of research. Instead, Australia relies on a self-regulation model that allows research institutions to receive, assess and investigate complaints of research misconduct without independent oversight.

As demonstrated in Part 1 of this report, ‘The case for a research integrity watchdog in Australia’, this approach is not only ineffective, but can also incentivise research institutions to hide cases of research misconduct. An independent research integrity body will ensure public confidence and international trust in the Australian research sector.

The Australian Academy of Science’s proposal for a “national oversight body”, potentially named Research Integrity Australia (RIA), stems from these concerns. But will the proposed model be enough to stop research misconduct?

This report offers nine recommendations to create a world-leading research integrity watchdog for Australia. These suggestions are based on an analysis of five prominent research integrity watchdogs from overseas. We took the best ideas and practices from these international watchdogs to inform a proposed design for an Australian body.

These recommendations build on the existing strengths of Australia’s current framework, combined with international best practice, to design a world-leading watchdog in which Australians can place real trust.

The recommendations of this report are:

  1. Establish a clear and enforceable definition of ‘research misconduct’.
  2. Establish a free-standing, government-funded research integrity watchdog with investigatory powers.
  3. Research institutions should be bound by the findings of the independent watchdog.
  4. Establish a network of local research integrity officers based in research institutions but accountable to the watchdog.
  5. Complainants should be able to directly report suspected misconduct to the independent watchdog.
  6. The independent watchdog should provide educational resources and mandatory training about research integrity.
  7. All reports of research misconduct should be made publicly available.
  8. Reintroduce a proper appeal process.
  9. Create whistleblower protections.

Recommendations for Creating a World-leading Research Integrity Watchdog with Teeth