Policy on Research Integrity

1. Principles of Research Integrity

2. Good Research Practices

3. Research Misconduct

 

1.  Principles of Research Integrity

As a world-class comprehensive university with research activities spanning all major disciplines, the University of Hong Kong realises the vital importance of research integrity.  All members of the University must observe the highest standards of professional conduct and must comply with the following principles of research integrityin pursuing their research activities:

  • be accountable and accept responsibility for all aspects of their research;
  • Ÿhonesty in the conduct and communication of research;
  • objectivity and openness;
  • Ÿdue diligence and duty of care;
  • Ÿfairness in giving credit and appropriate acknowledgement; and
  • responsibility for nurturing students and early-career research colleagues.
     

All researchers of the University must be committed to the principle of honesty in conducting research and in communicating research findings to the research community and the public.  Honesty is required in presenting research goals and intentions, and in reporting procedures and findings.  Such presentation and reporting must be full and fair.  Objectivity of research requires maintenance of accuracy in the collection and reporting of data.  Conclusions must be based on verifiable facts, and researchers should be impartial and be as transparent as possible (notwithstanding mindful of the secrecy requirement in filing of patents and know-hows) in the handling of data.  Research findings should be made accessible to the research community for verification.  All researchers have a duty of care to the human research participants, the animals, and the environment under study.  They must be fair in giving credit for the work of other researchers who participate in the research.  They have a responsibility in supervising and nurturing research students and early-career researchers, who will be researchers of the next generation.  Positions of seniority or responsibility should never be abused so as to put pressure on colleagues or research students, for example, to forgo their right to proper acknowledgement of their contribution to the research or publication in question, or to add persons who have not significantly and/or substantially contributed to the research onto the authorship list.

In pursuing their research activities, members of the University should adhere to good research practices; should not engage in research misconduct such as plagiarism, fabrication, falsification or unauthorised use of data, improper ascription of authorship, non-disclosure of potential conflict of interestetc. (see Section 3 below). Relevant ethical approval must be obtained before the commencement of data collection.  Misconduct or alleged misconduct in research will be dealt with in accordance with the Procedures for Dealing with Alleged Staff Misconduct in Research.

The following Sections in this paper provide information and guidelines on good research practices and highlights of the major kinds of misconduct.  Further questions on best practices or doubts about research malpractices or misconduct can be referred to the offices of Heads/Deans that are responsible for research-related matters (“Heads/Deans”) or the Director of Education and Development of Research Integrity for advice.  Attendance of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Seminar organized by the Research Services Section of the Registry is mandatory for current and new members of the University to be eligible for internal research and conference support and research postgraduate student supervision.


2.  Good Research Practices

In pursuing their research activities, all members of the University should be committed to adhering to good research practices to ensure research integrity.  It is essential that the design of research projects follows all relevant ethical guidelines, and researchers should only participate in work which conforms to accepted ethical standards and which they are competent to perform.  Appropriate risk assessment exercises must be performed before an experiment is conducted.  Experiments that are considered unsafe, as judged by experts and professionals, must not be carried out unless the risks have been sufficiently mitigated or nullified.  When in doubt, researchers should consult the University Director of Safety, and the Director of Education and Development for Research Integrity (through the Research Services Section of the Registry), and seek assistance from their senior colleagues or peers or offices of Heads/Deans.  Research postgraduate students should refer to the book Research Integrity published by the Graduate School.  Members of the University may also refer to the following documents for common good research practices:

  1. Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (European Science Foundation, March 2011;  http://www.esf.org/coordinating-research/mo-fora/research-integrity.html);
  2. ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research (Revised Edition, August 2007), by Nicholas H. Steneck, published by the Office of Research Integrity, USA (http://ori.hhs.gov/documents/rcrintro.pdf);
  3. Singapore Statement on Research Integrity, developed at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, July 2010, in Singapore, as a global guide to the responsible conduct of research (http://www.singaporestatement.org);
  4. Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research (American Chemical Society, 2015) (https://pubs.acs.org/userimages/ContentEditor/1218054468605/ethics.pdf);
  5. Nature Journals’ Policy on Publication Ethics (http://www.nature.com/authors/policies/publication.html);
  6. Code of Practice for Research issued by UK Research Integrity Office, September 2009 (http://ukrio.org/wp-content/uploads/UKRIO-Code-of-Practice-for-Research.pdf);
  7. Research Integrity and Research Misconduct Policy issued by Australian Research Council, April 2015 (http://www.arc.gov.au/sites/default/files/filedepot/Public/ARC/Feedback%20and%20Complaints/ARC_Research_Integrity_and_Misconduct_Policy_Arp15.pdf);
  8. Montreal Statement on Research Integrity in Cross-Boundary Research Collaborations developed at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity, May 2013 (http://www.researchintegrity.org/Statements/Montreal%20Statement%20English.pdf);
  9. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ Recommendations on Best Practice and Ethical Standards (http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html).

It should be noted that research conduct policies evolve with time when there are new benchmarks or challenges.  It is therefore important for these policies to be based on not just a few static documents or codes or guidelines, but an evolving and emerging mechanism.  There are research integrity conferences such as the World Conferences on Research Integrity and the Asia Pacific Conferences in Research Integrity, at which new benchmarks are discussed and physical cases are reported and analysed; participation by staff members in such conferences is encouraged.

2.1    Responsible conduct of research

All research should be conducted in a responsible manner.  The design of the research should be well-considered, and research procedures should be carried out with rigour and care.  The most appropriate research methods should be employed, and conclusions should be based on critical and unbiased analysis of factual evidence.  Research findings should be reported fully and in an objective manner.

The design of the research should aim at maximizing the benefits and reducing the risks to participants of the research.  There should be an appropriate balance between benefits and risks, and the well-being of the participants involved, especially those from vulnerable groups (such as young children, the mentally disadvantaged, and prisoners), should be protected.  Rights of participants to make decisions for themselves should be respected, and researchers should not exert undue influence on participants’ decisions.  Researchers should avoid conduct that may directly influence or distort research results.  In collecting information, researchers should be sensitive towards differences in ethnic origin, culture, social class, religion, gender, age and sexual orientation, and the information collected should be used only for the purpose of the investigation.  Data collection through deception should be avoided, and if it is absolutely necessary for deception to be employed, the researcher must ensure that no more than minimal risk is involved.  Participants should be informed of the deception after data collection (i.e. debriefing), and the data may be used only with the participants’ consent re-obtained after the debriefing.  The privacy of participants must be protected and all personal information should be treated in a confidential manner.   In particular, so far as personal data are concerned, the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and the data protection principles in Schedule 1 of that Ordinance should be complied with.  If there is any doubt about issues regarding personal data, assistance and advice should be sought from the University’s Data Protection Officer.

2.2    Publication-related conduct

Research results should be published in a timely manner, and publications should be based on objective analysis and interpretation of accurate research data in a professional manner.  Authorship should only be based on significant and/or substantial contributions to the research proper, including contribution to the design of the study, data collection, data analysis, and reporting; and should not be for merely administrative or copyediting roles.  Guest authorship (i.e. including authors who have not contributed to the research) or ghost authorship (i.e. not including individuals who have contributed) are not acceptable.  All authors take full responsibility over all the content of the publication, andfor the authenticity and reliability of the data used for the publication, and if they are responsible only for specific parts of the research or publication, this should be clearly specified in the publication as appropriate.  All co-authors must be informed, and their consent sought, before their names can be included in any publication.  The criteria for the order of authors appearing in the publication should take into consideration the relative contributions of the authors and/or prevailing international practice of the discipline, and should as far as possible be agreed on by all involved at the beginning of the research.  Authorship should follow the international norms, and disputes should be referred to senior professoriate members or the Head/Dean of the department/Faculty who have no actual or perceived conflict of interest for mediation.

Staff members of the University whose publications contain data/results that were collected in other institutions (e.g. in postdoctoral period, or previous organisations) must be clearly declared and acknowledged in the publications.  Citations should be done to the best of academic/professional abilities and knowledge of the authors, in ensuring that they are both relevant and pertinent.

Where appropriate and with their permission, names of individuals or organisations which have made significant contributions to the research and the roles they played in the project should be acknowledged in publications.  These include funding agencies, sponsors, and research collaborators and assistants who do not meet the authorship criteria.  Important works on which the research is based, and other academics who have contributed intellectually to the research should be appropriately cited or acknowledged.

Authors who engage technical expertise in collecting certain data which are part of the publications should discuss with the technical assistant if the work involved is significant and/or substantial enough to justify inclusion of the latter as a co-author.  Agreement should be sought before the data are collected.  In general, intellectual contributions (such as data analysis and interpretation, more than just routine data collection and compilation) are the requirement for listing as co-authors.  Staff who provide technical assistance (e.g. making the equipment accessible for data collection) but without significant intellectual contributions to the work should be properly acknowledged but not listed as co-authors.  Publication of the same (or substantial parts of the same) work in different journals is acceptable only with the consent of the editors of the journals and where proper reference is made to the prior publication(s).  In some fields, publications in conference proceedings are considered as full publications and hence such materials should not be duplicated in other publications.  In the author’s CV such related articles must be indicated as such and not give the impression that they are distinct research outputs when they are in fact the same or similar.

Authors should make plagiarism check of their manuscripts before they are submitted for publications.  Software for such check (e.g. iThenticate; Turnitin) is widely available nowadays.

In reviewing manuscripts submitted to journals or other publications, confidentiality must be observed.  Editors and reviewers should never make use of the writing or the data in the submitted manuscripts without the explicit permission of the corresponding author.  All major journals have published guidelines on authorship and conduct of reviewers, which should be adhered to strictly.

In communicating research findings to the general public (for example, through popular media), the same standards of honesty, objectivity and fairness should be observed.  The significance or the practical use of the research findings or products, as well as the limitations of the findings, should be presented in a truthful manner, and the reported findings should not be misleadingly selective or exaggerated.  Materials collected in research projects that have strong potential for technology transfer, background IP or knowhow for start-ups, and eventual patent licensing and commercialisation should be referred to the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) and the Versitech Ltd. for advice before they are published or presented in conferences.

When any author discovers, or be informed of, mistakes in a published manuscript, the author should immediately alert the editor and seek advice on publication of an erratum or withdrawal of the paper.  If there are co-authors, they should also be informed immediately.

2.3    Care and safety

All human and animal research subjects must be treated with care and respect.  In the design of the research, sufficient provisions should be made for ensuring the safety of the human participants in data collection.  Risks and distress to participants should be estimated and kept to a minimum.  The safety, health and welfare of the community and of all people relating to the research must be safeguarded.

Animals should be used in research only when alternative means have been found to be not viable or adequate.  Where possible, the use of animals in research should be replaced by other methods such as computer simulationor cellular or other model systems.  If research involving animals is necessary, the research design should aim at reducing the number of animals used to obtain sufficientinformation, and no more than the minimum number of animals necessary to ensure scientific and statistical validity should be used.  Harm or distress inflicted upon the animals must be outweighed by the benefits expected from the research, and measures should be taken to keep such harm or distress to a minimum.

The physical and cultural environment should also be respected and treated with care, and measures need to be taken to minimize any unavoidableharmful impact on the environment.  Researcher should take the sustainability of environmental resources into consideration in research design.  All resources should be utilized and deployed efficiently, and waste should be minimized.

In reporting experiments that are hazardous or potentially dangerous, authors are obliged to highlight and emphasise the hazards and the means to mitigate such risks.

2.4    Proper data handling

Research data must be collected and dated in a truthful manner, and there should be clear record on the data collection process.  Data should be kept in a secured and accessible form, as standard in more than one medium and at more than one location, and be documented and archived for a substantial period of time (at least 5 years after publication of the findings, and preferably longer) to allow for verification and replication by other researchers.  (Data can be kept stored over a prolonged period on electronic/digital media.)  The University’s Policy on the Management of Research Data and Records must be observed.  All research data and record of these data can be subject to audits and related examination as proof of authenticity.

Individual researchers should be able to hold copies of the data for their own use. Nevertheless, it should be understood that retention solely by the individual researcher provides little protection to the researcher or the University in the event of an allegation of falsification of data.  In some cases there may be restrictions on the retention of data obtained from limited access databases or in a project carried out under a contract.  In such cases, a written indication of the location of the original data or key information regarding the limited-access database from which it was extracted must be kept in the department or research unit.

It should be noted that in general, data on research published in the open literature cannot be used as materials for patent filing.

Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, researchers must ensure that the personal data of participants are properly protected, and disclosure is not allowed without the consent of the participants concerned.  If data of a confidential nature are obtained, for example from individual patient records or by questionnaires, confidentiality of the information must be observed to protect the informants.  The methods of data acquisition and the use to which the data will be put must be approved by the appropriate Ethics Committee(s) (e.g. the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), the Institutional Review Board of the University of Hong Kong/Hospital Authority Hong Kong West Cluster (IRB), the Committee for the Use of Live Animals in Teaching and Research (CULATR)).  The researchers must not use such information for their own personal advantage or that of a third party.  In general, research results and methods should be open to scrutiny by colleagues within the University and, through appropriate publication, by the profession at large, provided that the confidentiality of individual participants’ identity is adequately protected, especially in accordance with any laws relating to data protection.

2.5    Disclosure of conflict of interest

In order not to jeopardize the trustworthiness of research results, any relevant or potential conflict of interest - whether personal, financial, academic or political - should be identified and declared.  Conflict of interest should be declared in research proposals, publications or other forms of dissemination of findings, etc.

In reviewing research proposals and editing or reviewing research publications, a reviewer or an editor who has a relevant conflict of interest should abstain from the decision making process.  For potential, minor or unavoidable conflict of interest, it must be unambiguously declared.

2.6    Compliance with relevant regulations

All experiments or other forms of research project, where the University has an interest, involving consent of human participants and the use of vertebrate animal subjects must obtain prior approval of the appropriate Ethics Committee(s).  Informed consent of human participants should be appropriately documented.  Clients or sponsors should be alerted to the ethical and legal obligations of the researcher, and to the possible restrictions this may impose on the research.

Research should be conducted in compliance with applicable laws, safety and health guidelines, which are designed to ensure the safety and welfare of human participants and laboratory animals.

2.7    Contract research

Secrecy may be necessary for a limited period in some contract research.  However, that necessity must be clearly stated in the contract and fully understood by all parties.  Where a research student is involved in working on such a contractand using some of the research data in the student’s thesis project, the researcher concerned must ensure that the party sponsoring the research understands and accepts unequivocally that the student’s thesis will not be restricted from publication, although there may be scope for not releasing certain types of data confidential to the sponsor.  Contract agreement should state clearly that, upon agreement by both parties, some relevant materials may be suitable, and hence allowed, for publication in academic journals or books.  Consultation with the Policy Board of Postgraduate Education should be undertaken before any restrictive agreement is reached.  Researchers conducting contract research must ensure that the policy on Use of the University’s Name and Visual Identity is complied with to avoid commercial exploitation of the University’s name.  If the contract involves intellectual property, the University’s Intellectual Property Rights Policy should be adhered to, and the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) should be consulted.  In general, graduate students on publicly-funded scholarships who are to be engaged to carry out commercial projects under “contract research” or “outside practice” (especially when the work is outside the core of a student’s academic thesis project) should clearly declare the nature of such projects, and should obtain formal agreement from all parties and authorisation by the appropriate university bodies.  Their projects should be adequately funded by the relevant commercial sources to avoid using publicly-funded scholarships to support commercial projects.

2.8    Reporting irresponsible research practices

Members of the university should report to the authorities concerned any suspected research misconduct (refer to the document Procedures for Dealing with Alleged Staff Misconduct in Research).  This includes plagiarism, abuse of data, improper ascription of authorship, non-compliance with regulations, and other forms of improper research practices that are deemed unacceptable by the academic community (see Section 3 below).

Staff members or students who in good faith report a concern or participate in the investigation of a case of research misconduct shall be protected from retaliation or adverse consequences of their employment or studies regardless of whether the allegation is substantiated.  Staff members or students believing that they are being retaliated against shall immediately report the matter to the President & Vice-Chancellor.

General academic disputes outside the context of research misconduct should be mediated or adjudicated at the department or Faculty level, involving senior professoriate members and/or the Department Head (or equivalent) and the Faculty Dean, or their delegates.

2.9    Special needs in different disciplines

In some disciplines there may be special areas which require specific regulations, for example, animal and human experimentation and the handling of hazardous materials.  The rules for these activities must form part of the general policy of ethics and safety for each department (or equivalent).  The University Director of Safety should be consulted in these cases.

2.10    Collaboration

Researchers should pay particular attention to projects which include participants from different countries or where work will be carried out in another country, due to the additional legal and ethical requirements and other guidelines that may apply.

They should be aware of the standards and procedures for the conduct of research followed by any organisations involved in collaborative research that they are undertaking.  They should also be aware of any contractual requirements involving partner organisations, seeking guidance and assistance where necessary.

They should try to anticipate any issues that might arise as a result of working collaboratively and to agree jointly in advance how such issues might be addressed, communicating any decisions to all members of the research team.  In particular, agreement should be sought on the specific roles of the researchers involved in the project and on issues relating to intellectual property, publication and the attribution of authorship, recognising that, subject to legal and ethical requirements, roles and contributions may change during the time span of the research.

Further guidance on research integrity in collaborative research can be found in the Montreal Statement on Research Integrity in Cross-Boundary Research Collaborations referred to in Section 2.

2.11    Checklist for researchers

The Code of Practice for Research issued by the UK Research Integrity Office (referred to in Section 2) provides a useful checklist for staff members and students to assist routine monitoring of their research work.


3.  Research Misconduct

Research misconduct is one or more unethical practices that deviate from those commonly accepted within the academic community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research.  It can appear in many forms, and may lead to disciplinary action.  The following list only intends to highlight major kinds of research misconduct and is not exhaustive.

3.1    Plagiarism and self-plagiarism

  • Plagiarism is direct copying of textual material or wilful use of other people’s data and ideas, and presenting them as one’s own without acknowledgement;
  • Self-plagiarism is reuse of one’s own data or repeat of previously published written work, or part thereof, in a ‘new’ publication without acknowledging that the data set has been used or written work has been published elsewhere.

References to what could constitute plagiarism can be found in the booklet What is Plagiarism? published by the University.

3.2    Abuse of data – this includes

  • ŸFabrication of data – making up data and/or results where no or different data have been obtained, and publishing them as if they were real or true or representative;
  • ŸFalsification of data – 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;
  • ŸUnethical collection of data – collecting data through exploitation of vulnerable or disadvantaged groups, or unnecessarily infringing upon the privacy of participants; the data collection process harmful to participants, or putting them at more risk than necessary;
  • ŸUnauthorised use of data – infringing on the data ownership rights of others, or using data involving human participants without their informed consent;
  • Publication or use of irreproducible data – report of data that came out from experiments that are irreproducible or experiments that have not been optimised, unless clearly stated in the report (e.g., as pilot data).

3.3    Improper ascription of authorship

  • ŸThe over-riding principle for authorship of a research output is the intellectual contribution to the research process and not merely administrative involvement.  Author and co-authors should have significant and/or substantial participation in conceiving, executing or interpreting at least part of the research reported.  The research team should agree on which individuals should be named as co-authors, and the order in which their names appear in publications.  The corresponding author(s) are ultimately responsible for the order in the authorship.
  • ŸOne particularly serious offence is when senior staff (such as heads of department or supervisors) coerce colleagues or students into allowing the former to take the credit of the research in question as their own, either wholly or partly, and not acknowledging or giving proper credit to the latter.  This is a failure of leadership and of moral responsibility.
  • ŸMisleading ascription of authorship includes the listing of authors without their permission, attributing work to those who have not in fact contributed to the research, and the lack of appropriate acknowledgement of work primarily produced by a research student or any associate.  Due recognition of all participants is an important part of a proper research process.  Authors should ensure that the work of research students, research assistants, and all support staff is properly acknowledged.  It does not matter whether the researchers were employed or otherwise paid for their work.
  • ŸEach author must endorse the whole work.  The authors of the research output should read the final paper and agree that each of them has met the minimum requirements for authorship.  It is unethical to claim authorship without reading and approving the final draft in its entirety.  All of the authors are equally responsible for the contents of the research output; if the contents are fraudulent then all authors carry the blame.  Responsibility cannot be shifted from an academically senior author to an academically junior one, and vice versa.
  • The unattributed re-presentation of any research output,whether for research or teaching, in a language other than the original is unacceptable.

3.4    Non-disclosure of potential conflict of interest

  • ŸDisclosure of any potential conflict of interest is essential for the responsible conduct of research.  Non-disclosure is regarded as unethical behaviour.
  • ŸA researcher’s affiliation with, or financial involvement in, any organisation or entity with a direct interest in the subject matter, or in the provision of materials for the research, must be included in a full acknowledgement.
  • ŸMembers of committees responsible for the allocation of research or conference grants should not participate in any way in the determination of their own applications, or normally those of students whom they supervise or have previously supervised. 
  • The source of funding for research work should always be acknowledged, unless the donor requests anonymity and such request is approved by the University.

3.5    Non-compliance with regulations – this includes

  • ŸCommencing data collection for research involving human participants or animals before ethical approval is obtained from the appropriate Ethics Committee(s);
  • ŸFailure to comply with the conditions of the ethical approval;
  • ŸFailure to comply with the contract terms;
  • ŸResearch not reasonably conducted according to the approved research design;
  • ŸInfringement of another person’s copyright, patents, trade-marks, computer software, etc., with respect to any form of research output (refer to the Intellectual Property Rights Policy of the University);
  • Breaching of the relevant laws, or safety and health guidelines.

3.6    Deviations from good research practices (as recommended in Section 2 above) through gross or persistent negligence.

3.7    Wilful concealment or facilitation of research misconduct by others.

Research misconduct will result in actions taken in accordance with the Procedures for Dealing with Alleged Staff Misconduct in Research.

 

Note: This version of the Policy was approved by the Council at its meeting of February 28, 2017 for implementation with immediate effect.