In France, research integrity is now defined in the research code (article L. 211-2) as the set of rules and values that must govern research activities in order to guarantee their honest and rigorous nature.
Beyond disciplinary diversity, good research practices are based on common principles, which are set out in the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (pdf) :
- Reliability in ensuring the quality of research, reflected in the design, the methodology, the analysis and the use of resources.
- Respect for colleagues, research participants, society, ecosystems, cultural heritage and the environment.
- Honesty in developing, undertaking, reviewing, reporting and communicating research in a transparent, fair, full and unbiased way.
- Accountability for the research from idea to publication, for its management and organisation, for training, supervision and mentoring, and for its wider impacts.
Although there is no legal definition of research misconduct in France, two main types of deviations from good research practices are usually distinguished:
- Generic scientific fraud, qualified as serious and intentional. This is what is commonly referred to by the acronym FFP for fabrication of data, falsification of data, and plagiarism.
- Questionable Research Practices (QRP): in this “grey zone”, inappropriate practices that harm the reliability of scientific results and/or the proper functioning of research communities may concern data (e.g., deficient archiving or mismanagement, problematic statistical processing, image embellishment), publications (e.g., abusive authorship, segmentation of publications or “salami-slicing”, self-plagiarism), interactions with other researchers (e.g., biased peer-reviewing, lack of supervision) etc.
A more complete and detailed list of examples of questionable research practices, which is a reference at the European level, is provided by the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (pdf). Please note that acts of moral or sexual harassment, which are subject to specific legal qualifications, do not as such fall within the scope of research misconducts.
I should inform without delay the research integrity officer of the institution where I work or where I carry out my research activity and ask him/her whether a formal allegation is appropriate. He/she will assess whether this action or situation can justify a formal allegation, assess that the allegation is admissible and open an investigation, if necessary. To contact a officer: see the Directory of Research Integrity Officers provided by Ofis.
Yes, the author of an allegation benefits from the confidentiality associated with the investigation procedure and that the research integrity officer is charged to ensure (decree of 3 December 2021, article 3.4°).
This guarantee applies to the procedure itself, the existence of which the RIO must mention only to the protagonists and the head of the institution, asking them to respect confidentiality. This guarantee also consist in protecting the identity of the author of the allegation if he or she requests it, in order to protect him or her from possible retaliations.
Yes, in cases where the misconduct is likely to fall within the scope of the law concerning whistleblowers.
These cases are set out in Article 6 of the law of December 9, 2016 (known as Sapin II) relating to transparency, the fight against corruption and the modernization of economic life, as amended by the law of March 21, 2022 (known as Waserman) aimed at improving the protection of whistleblowers:
“A whistleblower is a natural person who reports or discloses, without any financial consideration and in good faith, information relating to:
– a crime, an offence,
– a threat or harm to the public interest,
– a violation or an attempt to conceal a violation of:
– an international commitment regularly ratified or approved by France,
– an unilateral act of an international organization taken on the basis of such a commitment,
– European Union laws,
– the law or the regulations” .
It is further specified that “when the information was not obtained in the course of professional activities […], the whistleblower must have had personal knowledge of it” .
The author of an allegation of research misconduct can therefore claim the status of whistleblower and benefit from the associated protection (prohibition of retaliatory measures, no criminal or civil liability, etc.) only if the misconduct falls into one of these categories. In practice, this may be the case when the misconduct constitutes an offence (fraud, counterfeit, failure to comply with a particular rules penally sanctioned, etc.) or the violation of a law or a regulation.
The question of whether a research misconduct is likely to constitute “a threat or harm to the public interest” because of the harm that would be done to science or research remains open. We must wait for the courts to decide on this point.
During the investigation of an allegation of misconduct against me, I have the possibility to :
– Communicate information or documents concerning the facts of which I am accused and of which I have been informed by the research integrity officer (RIO) conducting the investigation;
– Call upon a colleague, a staff or union representative to assist or represent me during interviews or hearings organized by the RIO;
– Make comments on the preliminary report of the investigation.
During an investigation, I benefit from the right to a transparent, formalised and fair procedure and to the respect of the adversarial principle (decree of December 3, 2021, article 2.5°) as well as the presumption of innocence or good faith. I can also count on the obligation for the research integrity officer to conduct his investigation in an independent, impartial and objective manner (decree, article 4). If, at the end of the investigation procedure, the head of my institution decides, on the basis of the investigation report, to initiate a disciplinary procedure, I benefit from the rights provided by the disciplinary rules applicable in this institution.
To date, no. The Decree of December 3, 2021, relating to the procedure for investigating allegations of misconduct do not provide for an appeal body in the event that the author of such an allegation is dissatisfied with the outcome of the procedure. This is the case regardless of the cause of this dissatisfaction: no consequences (due to the failure of the research integrity officer, obstruction by the persons involved, lack of responsiveness by the head of the institution concerned) or whether consequences are not considered appropriate (no sanction or sanction considered insufficient in relation to the fault). The current system is based on the discretion of the head of the institution concerned by the misconduct, both in terms of the misconduct’ characterization and the choice of the corresponding sanction, subject to compliance with the applicable disciplinary procedure (e.g., consultation of a disciplinary body for advice).
However, when the author of the allegation is also the victim of the misconduct, he or she may take legal action to repair the damage suffered – depending on circumstances and the type of misconduct (e.g., fraud, plagiarism). This can be done independently of the investigation procedure and regardless of its outcome.
Confidentiality applies first of all to the fact that the Research Integrity Officer (RIO) opens an investigation procedure, once an allegation has been declared admissible. The RIO must obviously inform the author of the allegation, the person(s) implicated and the head of the institution, but he/she does not have to report it to third parties. Confidentiality applies throughout the procedure and until the submission of the investigation report. The decree of December 3, 2021 explicitly includes the task of “guaranteeing the confidentiality of the procedure for handling allegations” (article 3.6), the aim being to protect the author of the allegation from possible retaliations and the person(s) implicated from possible malicious actions.
Once the investigation report has been submitted to the head of the institution, it is up to the latter to decide whether or not to lift confidentiality, in whole or in part, depending on the action he or she intends to take.
Yes, if the research integrity officer (RIO) has made me sign a confidentiality agreement.
In this case, the obligation of confidentiality applies to the information and documents that the RIO is required to communicate to the protagonists of a case, in particular the preliminary investigation report.
If the RIO’s request to sign a confidentiality agreement is refused, the RIO is allowed to refuse to communicate confidential information and documents.
The same applies to hearings and expert opinions that the RIO may use: the RIO should invite the persons concerned to sign a confidentiality agreement. If they refuse, the RIO may not used the hearings or expert opinions initially envisaged.
The decree of December 3, 2021 applies on the one hand to “public institutions contributing to the public service of research“, and on the other hand to “foundations recognized as being of public utility whose principal activity is public research“. These are therefore essentially universities, public research organisations, grandes écoles, other higher education institutions, scientific groups and scientific cooperation foundations.
It is possible that other entities contributing to public research but not having one of the above-mentioned statuses may unilaterally decide to apply the decree (or part of the decree) within their own organisation, in particular by appointing a research integrity officer and setting up a system for reporting and dealing with research misconduct.
In this case, these entities have to respect the decree, as if applicable to them, as well as the good practices associated with its implementation.
No, it is not part of Ofis’ missions to investigate cases of alleged research misconduct. In France, research integrity officers (RIO) appointed by research operators are in charge of these investigations.
See the Directory of Research Integrity Officers provided by Ofis.
It is a text that must be pronounced individually by all new PhDs at the end of the defense:
“In the presence of my peers. With the completion of my doctorate in [research field], in my quest for knowledge, I have carried out demanding research, demonstrated intellectual rigour, ethical reflection, and respect for the principles of research integrity. As I pursue my professional career, whatever my chosen field, I pledge, to the greatest of my ability, to continue to maintain integrity in my relationship to knowledge, in my methods and in my results.”
This text must be pronounced in the same way in all institutions.
The oath is released to doctoral students through the doctoral charter of their institution, at the time of their registration or reregistration.
Find the English version and detailed information on the doctoral oath of research integrity in the dedicated Ofis fact sheet.
According to the the parliamentarians behind this initiative, the oath has a double purpose:
- The valorisation of doctoral degree in all professional sectors: by reinforcing the solemnity of thesis defenses and by symbolically inscribing the new doctors within the scientific community.
- The reinforcement of the diffusion of research integrity principles, inside and outside the academic sector.
Thus, by highlighting the methodological requirements and intellectual rigor that are characteristic of the scientific process, the oath enhances the key skills attached to training through research. The oath is intended to strengthen the credibility of scientific voices in all fields of activity.
The oath may also be protective: PhDs can invoke their commitment to refuse to be pressured, to adopt behaviors or to commit acts or omissions that conflict with research integrity requirements.
Taking the oath is mandatory by law. Refusal to take the oath is a breach of a legal obligation.
The oath is taken at the end of the thesis defense. The respect or the non-respect of the obligation to take the oath is therefore mentioned in the minutes of the defense.
The PhD title is delivered before the oath is taken and is not subordinated to it. There is no legal sanction directly associated to the fact of not having taken the oath. Indeed, this provision was conceived in the first place as a tool for promoting research integrity inside communities.
Because its implementation is recent (January 2023), it is not yet possible to identify any consequences, other than legal ones, for doctors who choose not to take the oath (e.g., what uses a future employer, a recruitment committee, an award committee, etc. will make of this information).
A “predatory journal” is a journal whose priority is financial profit at the expense of scientific quality and scientific integrity. It offers authors the open publication of their articles online, according to the Article Processing Charges (APC) model, without respecting the canons of scientific publication (no or little peer review, false indexing, fake editorial boards, etc.). Publishing in this type of journal is therefore highly detrimental to science, as well as to the reputation of researchers.
Popularised in the 2000s, the term “predatory” journal is now being debated. It is also referred to as dubious, illegitimate, low quality, untrustworthy, etc.
For more information, please consult the Ofis Thematic section dedicated to this subject.
There is no legal period of limitation for research misconducts (i.e., a period of time after which the misconduct could not give rise to an allegation or to an investigation procedure), except when the misconduct is also a criminal offence (e.g., fraud, counterfeiting) for which the legal period of limitation is generally 6 years.
However, old facts may make the investigation difficult or even impossible. The research integrity officer should explicitly mention such situations in the investigation report.
In the case of disciplinary proceedings related to proven misconduct, the period of limitation differs depending on whether the person responsible for the misconduct is subject to public service law (i.e., 3 years) or not (i.e., 2 months).
In both cases, the period of limitation starts from the moment the employer receives the investigation report – i.e., from the moment the employer is aware of the facts of which the researcher may be accused.