Misconduct Support Material
Author(s) of the published research material
There are several different things that can define one as an author of the published research material. However, the most common one is that the author(s) of the research publication are the person or persons who have created the work and have been named as its author(s). Nevertheless, the researcher can also agree on the authorship of the research publication with persons who contribute to the creation of the publication, based on the specific criteria that the two parties decide with one another. The researcher can also agree on the authorship of the research on other principles if the contribution of each author is clearly identifiable and pointed out, and each author is individually responsible for his/her part. There is also a possibility that the researcher discusses the attribution of authorship of the research publication, the sequence of authors and other questions related to publishing with all colleagues and partners who contribute to the research (preferably before starting the article compilation).
Dealing with Violations and Allegations of Misconduct
National or institutional guidelines differ as to how violations of good research practice or allegations of misconduct are handled. It is always in the interest of society and the research community that violations are handled in a consistent and transparent fashion, always consult the institutional guidelines. Integrity and fairness are the two most important things to keep in mind when starting to investigate the possible misconduct. It is important that the investigation is fair and that the parties involved declare any conflict of interest that may arise during the investigation. Investigations should always carry out to a conclusion and procedures are conducted confidentially in order to protect those involved in the investigation. It is also important to remember that anyone accused of research misconduct is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
At Tallinn University
As stated above different institutions have different procedures and institution dependent guidelines on how violations and misconducts are handled. Tallinn University has an autonomous panel that specializes at evaluation of ethical research and decides upon the compliance of possible misconducts. This panel is referred to as the Ethics Committee of Tallinn University. One can turn to this panel in the cases of misconduct. In order for the committee to review a project an application needs to be submitted.
The committee is composed of a chairman, members of the committee and a secretary of the committee. The committee gathers together to discuss possible violations about once a month. The ethics committee operates according to the Personal Data Protection Act, good scientific practice of Estonia, European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (ALLEA) and other guidelines that are relevant depending on the field of research. The ethics committee mainly deals with evaluation of projects made by employees, researchers or doctoral students, however bachelors and masters degree students projects can also be evaluated if a project supervisor sees the need to do so, in this event however a special application is needed.
Tallinn University instructions regarding university specific code of conduct can be found here: https://www.tlu.ee/en/code-conduct-research-integrity
Additional information about ethics and plagiarism can be found here: https://www.tlu.ee/en/students-about-ethics-and-plagiarism#_-self---plagiarism
Information regarding the Ethics committee at Tallinn University:
Prevention and handling of infringements
Adherence to good research practices and research ethics is paramount to the prevention of ethical violations. This means that ethical research requires ethical sensitivity and knowledge of good practices. However, the acquisition of the appropriate knowledge, skills and sensitivities requires time and practice. It is therefore important that inexperienced researchers participate in ethical training, use the help of a supervisor or mentor, and interact with other researchers. As research ethics is situational or context-sensitive and perfect and universal solutions are rare, communication and sharing of experiences within the research community are particularly important. It is also important that researchers value honesty, confidentiality, competence, and professionalism in their practice and evaluate their own and others' actions in the light of these values.
Misconduct is not clearly defined in scientific ethics, but according to ALLEA and the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, this definition primarily covers the most serious ethical violations, such as plagiarism, data fabrication and falsification. In addition to these three, it is also important to ensure that there is no misrepresentation or disregard of the will of those involved in the study, no cruel treatment of experimental animals and no falsification of research permits. Researchers are obliged to ensure the independence of the research process, not to obstruct the work of other researchers, and to always inform the research organization in case of alleged violations by other researchers.
In addition to behaviour, infringements can also be defined by the degree of intent. For example, a distinction can be made between intentional misconduct, gross negligence, and unintentional misconduct. Minor types of unintentional infringements are generally considered to be fair errors, but depending on the degree of infringement, they may be followed by either retraction (of the article) or correction. More serious intentional infringements may be accompanied by more severe sanctions in addition to the withdrawal of the publication, such as dismissal, withdrawal of funding or expulsion in the case of a student. In case of corruption, the researcher can also be punished under criminal procedure. Violations endanger the public reputation of the researcher, their institution and, more broadly, the scientific community, and may affect public funding in the future.
Good research practice stipulates that research institutions must ensure that researchers could report any breaches of research ethics in confidence. In doing so, it must be specified who should be contacted in case of doubts and questions. At Tallinn University, violations of academic practices, violations of ethical norms and other issues are assessed by the Ethics Committee of Tallinn University, which may be addressed by a member of the university's governing body, a person belonging to the university or the head of the unit. As a first step, it makes the most sense for a young researcher to talk to either their supervisor or the head of the unit.
Conflict of interests
According to Estonian Code of Conduct for Research Integrity glossary, a conflict of interest “is a situation where the reliability of a researcher or their work or decisions becomes questionable due to their personal and professional interests that are competing with one another.” A conflict of interest arises when the choices made, or the results of the research are causally related to the private or financial interests of the researcher, institution, funder, or publisher. A conflict of interest is, for example, a situation in which an expert has been hired to carry out an environmental impact assessment of a project to make a financial profit if the project is successful; or a situation where a researcher decides to hire a person close to them as a laboratory assistant.
Conflicts of interest can also arise from a conflict of roles, i.e. a situation where the researcher's decisions may be influenced by the conflicting demands of different roles. A researcher does not do science in isolation from the rest of their life but performs other roles in addition to their role as a researcher, such as being a supervisor, lecturer, leader, science populariser, parent, or a member of a non-governmental organization. Therefore, a conflict of interest is not always bad in itself, but in the interests of openness and honesty, the researcher is expected to either disclose the conflict of interest (i.e. inform all parties) or withdraw from a decisive position. Disclosure does not eliminate a conflict of interest, but it does allow other parties to assess whether a particular conflict of interest may affect the credibility of the researcher's decisions.