Annual statement on research integrity: 2020 - 2021

This statement forms part of the University’s commitment to outline the work undertaken to further strengthen the integrity of the University’s research.

The University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and integrity in its research, and places ethics and integrity at the heart of its decision making[1]. As a component of this commitment, the University requires that all research projects undertaken under the auspices of the University observe a commitment to good research conduct as laid out in the Universities UK Concordat to Support Research Integrity and the UK Research and Innovation Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct.

 

University contacts for research integrity

The University’s Research Integrity and Governance Committee oversees the integrity of the University’s research on behalf of the University Council. The University’s ‘Named Person’ for Research Integrity (Professor Elizabeth Perkins) oversees the University’s research misconduct process, and provides a first point of contact for anyone wanting more information on matters of research integrity.

The University recognises that concerns relating to research integrity can be complex, challenging and highly sensitive; and can impact upon the emotional and mental wellbeing of those involved.

Any person wishing to raise concerns about the integrity of research being conducted under the auspices of the University can do so in confidence through the Named Person by emailing integrity@liverpool.ac.uk as part of the University’s ‘Policy on Misconduct in Research’. Concerns can also be raised initially at a local level within the institution via, or with the assistance of, an intermediary such as a Line Manager, Tutor or Supervisor, Head of School, Trade Union representative, Guild advice service representative, or colleague.

This statement forms part of the University’s commitment to outline the work undertaken to further strengthen the integrity of the University’s research.


Policies and procedures

The University has policies and procedures in place to ensure that research is conducted to the highest levels of ethics and integrity, and these are available on the research integrity webpages. The University recognises the importance of clear policies and guidelines in embedding a culture of integrity and ethics within research practices. Such documents support researchers in understanding and acting according to expected standards, values and behaviours.

The University’s Policy on Research Integrity outlines a framework to ensure that all research is conducted in accordance with good research practice; while the University Policy on Research Ethics provides a framework to ensure that all research is conducted in accordance with fundamental ethical principles.

The University’s Policy on Misconduct in Research outlines the procedure to be followed when there is an allegation of misconduct in research. This procedure has appropriate principles and mechanisms to ensure that investigations are thorough and fair, carried out in a transparent manner, and protected by appropriate confidentiality. Details of recent research misconduct investigations is provided in the Appendix below.

These policies are reviewed on a regular basis in light of experience to ensure they meet the requirements of an evolving global research portfolio, and can be found on the University’s Research Integrity webpages

Policies are made available to staff through the University webpages, and are referenced in staff and student handbooks. Further to this, communications on research ethics and integrity processes are made through the University's announcements system. Ethics and integrity is also a standing item on the University's Faculty Research Committees and Faculty Regulatory Affairs Committees.

Information about University research-related policies and procedures is generally disseminated at induction via departmental and course programme handbooks. Induction for research students will normally include guidance about avoiding plagiarism and a requirement to undertake the University’s related online training in ethics and integrity.

 

Research integrity activities

In this statement, it is important to acknowledge the profound impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the institution; and, as a consequence, on institutional research integrity efforts. An incredible amount of effort has been required to maintain good research practice while diverting institutional focus, operating at an accelerated speed, and managing the difficult consequences of the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on researchers has been investigated in a study ran by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Nevertheless, the University has continually strove to ensure good research practice in line with the commitments outlined in the Concordat to Support Research Integrity.

The University seeks to ensure that all researchers are aware of and understand the policies and principles relating to ethics and integrity. It is recognised that multiple initiatives must be adopted to strengthen the understanding and engagement with ethics and integrity issues. In order to enhance awareness of research integrity, detailed ‘Research integrity communications from the Pro-Vice-Chancellors’ have been drafted and will be used to emphasise the importance of research integrity and to provide examples of good research practice.

Appropriate training is essential to embedding integrity and ethics within the research environment. The University has purchased training packages on research integrity and ethics, which form a mandatory part of the University's induction training for all research and teaching related staff; and a mandatory part of submissions for applications for research ethics review. This training is supported by ad-hoc presentations, workshops, and occasional guest speakers.

The University is a subscriber to the UK Research Integrity Office [UKRIO], and has benefitted greatly from UKRIO’s rolling webinar series; the materials from which are distributed across the Institution. The University is also a member and regular attendee of the Russell Group Research Integrity forum, which meets to discuss methods to embed a culture of integrity within Higher Education institutions. This forum provides important learning experiences and examples of activities which can support and strengthen the understanding of research integrity issues across institutions.

In 2018, the University conducted a comprehensive, institution-wide research integrity review. A series of recommendations were produced, including enhanced training in research integrity, Faculty-wide reviews of research integrity, the development of tailored good practice documents, and a review of institutional research data management practices. The University’s Research Integrity and Governance Committee are overseeing the implementation of the recommendations from the review.

Further information on the range of activities being taken forward can be found in each of our Faculty’s annual report on research integrity:

 

Research Ethics

The University's research ethics process provides rigorous safeguards and reduces harm wherever possible for all those involved in the research process by ensuring that the research is subject to active consideration of the ethical issues that may arise. The research ethics framework provides a mechanism for researchers to demonstrate engagement with ethical issues, and the process supports researchers in designing research to a high ethical standard.

The University’s Research Ethics Committees are constituted and operate in accordance with the Economic and Social Research Council Framework for Research Ethics and include lay representation, as well as a broad range of discipline expertise.

The University regularly reviews its research ethics framework against the standards set out in Economic and Social Research Council Framework for Research Ethics, the Association for Research Ethics Framework for Research Ethics Committees and the Department of Health Governance Arrangements for Research Ethics Committees.

The University’s Committee on Research Ethics continues to undertake a program of process improvement aimed at a further optimisation and strengthening of the research ethics process. During the previous year, this has included: the enhancement of the online system for the management of research ethics applications; the development of a research ethics teaching module; the creation of a research ethics decision tool; the creation of a research ethics handbook; and the implementation of initiatives aimed at embedding awareness and expertise in research ethics across the institution.

 

Conclusion

While the last year has posed significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, upholding rigour and integrity remains at the forefront of the University’s research endeavours. The University has sought to adapt to the challenges of maintaining good research practice while being required to operate at an accelerated pace; while efforts to uphold the commitments outlined in the Concordat to Support Research Integrity have continued throughout. Though the University recognises the work that remains to be completed, and the aspirational nature of the Concordat, institution-wide recommendations aimed at enhancing the University’s research integrity framework are being taken forward and examples of good research practice are collated and shared at every opportunity.

The University looks forward to building on these efforts through ongoing initiatives to raise awareness of research integrity, the enhancement of training in research integrity, and through the potential development of a research integrity handbook of good practice guidance. It is hoped that these steps provide an important contribution in promoting a positive culture of research integrity across the institution.

 

Research misconduct

Each year, the University receives details of a wide range of concerns relating to research integrity. The University considers such concerns under the framework of the Policy on misconduct in research.

A significant number of the concerns raised can be dealt with through competency, education, and training mechanisms.

Occasionally, concerns are investigated by a Screening Panel who determine that there is insufficient evidence of misconduct tin research; or that the concerns are mistaken, frivolous, vexatious and/or malicious.

Some research integrity concerns which are uncovered require Formal Investigation by research misconduct panels as part of the later stages of the Policy on misconduct in research. Details of these investigations is provided in the table below.

The University recognises the importance of using issues of research misconduct as important learning opportunities. Each research misconduct investigation concludes with a series of recommendations and lessons arising from the investigation. These recommendations are taken forward as part of the work of the University Research Integrity and Governance Committee; and a number of such recommendations have been described earlier in this statement.

 

 Number of formal investigations completedNumber of allegations upheld (in whole or in part)
  Oct 2017 - Sept 2018 Oct 2018 - Sept 2019 Oct 2019 - Sept 2020 Oct 2017 - Sept 2018 Oct 2018 - Sept 2019 Oct 2019 - Sept 2020
Fabrication 1b 0 0 1b 0 0
Falsification 1b 1d 0 1b 1d 0
Plagiarism 0 0 0 0 0 0
Misrepresentation 1b 1d 0 1b 1d 0
Breach of duty of care 1a 2c & e 0 1a 1e 0
Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct 0 0 0 0 0 0
Other 0 0 0 0 0 0
  • a The University investigated concerns relating to the alleged lack of research ethics approval in place for a student module which involved the collection of data from human participants. The Investigation Panel concluded that there had been a deviation from accepted good practice in carrying out research due to the failure to follow the research ethics process and acquire the required favourable opinion from the appropriate Research Ethics Committee for research conducted as part of a student module.
  • b The University investigated an allegation of misconduct in research relating to the fabrication of data for published studies investigating prognostic disease biomarkers. The Investigation Panel unanimously agreed that the allegations of misconduct in research should be upheld.
  • c The University investigated concerns relating to the alleged lack of research ethics approval in place for a student module which involved the collection of data from human participants. The Investigation Panel concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, the allegations did not meet the threshold for research misconduct.
  • d The University investigated an allegation of misconduct in research relating to the falsification and misrepresentation of data for a PhD thesis. The Investigation Panel concluded that research misconduct had occurred, but that there was no intent, recklessness, negligence, or deliberate deviation from accepted good practice; and therefore, the charge of misconduct in research was not upheld.
  • e The University investigated an allegation of misconduct in research relating to a deviation from accepted good practice in carrying out research through the unauthorised access to personal data. The Investigation Panel concluded that a charge of misconduct should be upheld.

The University seeks to learn from all cases of potential misconduct in research which arise, with investigations that produce wider recommendations for preventing future issues; while a ‘lessons learned’ document is distributed to all University staff to minimise the potential for research integrity issues reoccurring in future.

The University is committed to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and integrity in its research, and places ethics and integrity at the heart of its decision making.

University Strategy 2020

Back to: Research Integrity