Research records and the resolution of misconduct allegations at research universities
Accurate record keeping is an important part of the responsible conduct of research. However, there is very little empirical research on scientific record keeping. No one knows the incidence of serious problems with research records, the types of problems that occur, nor their consequences. In this study, we examined the role of research records in the resolution of misconduct allegations as a useful barometer for the incidence and types of problems that occur with records. We interviewed Research Integrity Officers (RIOs) at 90 major research universities and conducted focus groups with active research faculty. RIOs reported problems with research records in 38% of the 553 investigations they conducted. Severe problems with research records often prevented completion of investigations while problems that are more typical lengthened them by 2 to 3 weeks. Five types of poor record keeping practices accounted for 75% of the problems with incomplete/inadequate records being the most common (30%). The focus groups concurred with the findings from the interviews with RIOs, stressed the importance of the research group leader in setting and maintaining record practices, and offered additional insights. While university officials and faculty members have suspected for many years that there are serious problems with research record keeping, our study provides empirical evidence for this belief. By documenting some of the problems with record keeping in university-based research, the results of our study provide information that will be useful for policy development at academic institutions.