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40% of professors unaware of research misconduct or how it is investigated, study shows

More research misconduct cases found in 2020

Only about 6 in 10 university faculty members, including professors and graduate students, are aware of what research misconduct is and the process of investigating it, according to a report by the National Research Foundation of Korea.

Titled “2021 Study on the Level of Research Ethics Recognition of University Faculty Members,” the report conducted a nationwide survey on 2,292 professors and graduate students who had participated in NRF research projects in the past two years.

The report, which was released Wednesday, showed around 40 percent of the respondents weren’t fully aware of what research misconduct is. Among them, 30 percent said they knew the definition of research misconduct, but not how the investigation process works, while 3.5 percent, or 81 people, said they knew neither the definition or the process.

Although the portion of university faculty members aware of both the definition of research misconduct and the process of verifying it increased by 10.9 percentage points from the previous report’s 51.2 percent, the number of research misconduct has gone up in the recent years.

According to the NRF’s data, 110 cases were ruled as research misconduct in 2020. The figure was 91 in 2019.

More than 60 percent of the respondents said they knew how to report others’ wrongdoing in conducting research. This percentage has increased in both of the past two years, according to the NRF’s report.

This can also be seen in the growing number of alleged reports of research misconduct. There were 391 alleged reports of research misconduct in 2020, whereas the figure was only 58 in 2017.

In regards to the most frequent violations of research ethics, 27.7 percent of the survey respondents chose poor recording and managing of research notes, followed by unfair marking with 26.3 percent and plagiarism with 23.2 percent.

For the reasons behind constant violations of research ethics, more than a third of the university faculty members pointed to the performance-oriented research culture that comes from fierce competition among researchers and the evaluation system that focuses on the quantity of work.

Economic motivations such as acquiring research funds were the second-biggest reason with almost 20 percent, followed by a lack of will and ability to report and verify problematic research with 11.2 percent.

Asked what is needed the most to prevent violations of research ethics, nearly 30 percent of the professors and graduate students said the evaluation system needs to be changed so that it alleviates overheated competition for performance.

Less than 20 percent of the respondents picked “strengthening research ethics education” while 14.4 percent chose “strong penalties for researchers who violate research ethics.”

Over 85 percent of the respondents said the people who needed research ethics education the most were professors.

Research misconduct can be reported online through the website of the Center for Research Ethics Information.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (
Korea Herald daum