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Study group to probe causes behind research misconduct

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunA joint study group comprising six universities will start interviewing scholars this year who have engaged in research misconduct (see below), in a bid to determine common factors that lead to such wrongdoing, other than a personal desire to quickly achieve results.

Nagasaki University, Shinshu University, Niigata University, Kobe University, Tokushima University and Kyushu University will participate in the study. The group will include experts in psychology, legal studies, information science and ethics.

This will be the first crossover survey of research misconduct to be carried out in Japan, where such wrongdoing is increasingly common in the fields of medicine and life sciences. In one case, harassment by a professor in a laboratory with sweatshop-like conditions is said to have led to misconduct.

According to a survey conducted by Takaaki Matsuzawa, director of the 1st Theory-Oriented Research Group at the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy under the education ministry, there were zero to two cases of research misconduct a year until the 1990s. However, the number has surged since 2000, reaching 20 cases in 2012.

Of 58 cases of misconduct reported in the field of natural science from 1977 to 2012, 43 cases, or 74.1 percent, were related to medicine and life sciences. Those fields comprise a large number of researchers.

Unlike conventional investigations to identify wrongdoing — which are conducted by bodies to which the researchers in question belong — the joint study group aims to determine researchers’ mind-set when the misconduct happened and the background to their behavior.

The group believes it will not be difficult to elicit cooperation from researchers who have engaged in misconduct, since the purpose of the survey is to find ways to improve the research environment, not penalize them.

The Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, the control tower for domestic medical research, will provide a total of ¥30 million over three years to aid the research.

The University of Tokyo announced March 3 that it will take disciplinary measures equivalent to dismissal against five of its researchers, including a former professor. According to the university, they were found to have been involved in research misconduct connected to 33 treatises on cancer research and other topics.

An investigation conducted by the university in 2014 revealed some factors: Giving instructions to students in a coercive manner had been the norm, and students felt compelled to achieve what their professor requested or expected.

The exclusive nature of laboratories was also found to be problematic in other cases as well. The new study will look into the hierarchy and exclusiveness of laboratories to see if hotbeds for misconduct are common in life sciences.

The joint study will start on a full scale in April. The study group will directly interview researchers involved in about 20 known cases in the country and from abroad that became a source of public concern. A written survey to cover a few thousand researchers and graduate students at about 500 institutions in the country is also planned.

The results will be compiled by spring 2019.

“Our plan is not to investigate misconduct, but to clarify why researchers fall into wrongdoing,” said Takahisa Kawai, an expert on informatics at Nagasaki University who represents the joint study. “We especially want to prevent young researchers from being destroyed by misconduct that resulted from strong pressure from their superiors, and we hope that [the results of this survey] will help restore trust in Japan’s scientific studies.”

■ Research misconduct

According to Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry guidelines, research misconduct includes fabrication of research data and results, falsification of graphics and other material, and plagiarism. Academic societies and journals also prohibit contributing the same article to multiple journals.Speech

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