In Part 1 of this series, we described the various steps of the research misconduct life cycle. Today, we’re digging deeper into the early stage of a research misconduct case, so you know what to expect. More important, we’ll give you some suggestions about what you should (and shouldn’t) do.
The Assessment Stage
When the allegations are first reported to the university or research institution, there will be an “assessment” of the allegations. That assessment is generally very bare bones and simply determines if the allegations are credible on their face, whether they allege research misconduct and whether the institution has jurisdiction over them.
The policy for Cal Tech has typical language describing the assessment stage. The Research Integrity Officer (RIO) will assess:
any allegation of research misconduct to determine whether the conduct falls within the scope of this policy, whether the allegation, if true, would include conduct that meets the definition of research misconduct, and whether the allegation is sufficiently specific such that potential evidence of research misconduct could be identified.
For example, if someone complains that a researcher drives too fast or pays a housekeeper under the table, the institution will conclude during the assessment that these allegations do not fall within its jurisdiction or are not about research misconduct. Or if someone reports that a researcher is secretly an extraterrestrial, that likely will not make it past the assessment phase.
Even if an allegation doesn’t fall within the RIO’s jurisdiction, the institution may still counsel the researcher or try to work out a resolution. But, more likely, the researcher likely will not ever learn about the allegations at all.
Assuming the allegations survive the assessment stage, the next stage is the “inquiry.”
This is when things get serious.