Friday, August 27, 2021

Swedish national academic integrity board posts 2020 report

Sweden started a new national academic integrity board, Npof (Nämnden för prövning av oredlighet i forskning, The National Board for Assessment of Research Misconduct) on January 1, 2020. It has been tasked with investigating cases referred to it by Swedish universities or by individuals who directly inform the body. They look at cases of suspected FFP (Falsification, Fabrication, Plagiarism) that arise, since at the same time a new law took effect: Lagen (2019:504) om ansvar för god forskningssed och prövning av oredlighet i forskning. All researchers in Sweden are now legally required to follow a codex for good academic practice, which is based on the ALLEA code of conduct. Universities are still permitted to examine cases themselves, but now have a place to refer complicated cases. Decisions of Npof can be appealed to the Administrative Court in Uppsala.

The vision statement of Npof is

Everyone should be able to rely on Swedish research. Therfore, every researcher must follow good research practices. Suspicions of research misconduct need to be examined in a legally secure, transparent, and clear fashion. [my translation]

The body is subordinate to the Swedish Ministry of Education. They are required to publish a report on the cases they have investigated every year. The report for 2020 is now published on their web page along with a few statistics. They still have 8 cases from 2020 to deal with, and 16 new complaints have been lodged in 2021 already. There were 46 cases in 2020, of which 11 were ones that were already being investigated by the universities and were handed over as part of the law coming into effect. In the decisions they only found 4 persons guilty of misconduct, the rest were either not considered (11) or found not guilty (10) of serious misconduct.

The current list of final decisions (with the names redacted) from both 2020 and 2021 are also available on the web site.

  • 9 decisions concern both falsification and fabrication, 2 from Karolinska Institutet, 1 each from Lund and Umeå, and 5 registered from an individual.
  • 1 decision is only about fabrication of data, from Linköping, and is the appeal of a researcher who was previously found guilty of research misconduct.
  • 7 decisions are only about falsification of data, an appeal from Karolinska, 2 cases from Lund, 1 from Göteborg, and 3 registered from an individual.
  • 14 cases have to do with plagiarism (and self-plagiarism). 3 are from Lund, 2 from Linköping, one each from Uppsala, Göteborg, Örebro and Umeå, 3 from individuals. One case involves an appeal from the individual in a case from Uppsala and one other is also an appeal by the informant. 
  • They don't publish reports on cases they don't investigate.

The 68-page, richly illustrated report notes in the introduction that so many of the cases that were investigated actually involved personal conflicts or other kinds of problems, in particular authorship questions. But Npof only looks at FFP, not at the many other types conduct that could be considered academic misconduct, or at questionable research practices. They also note that when the preparations were being made for setting up Npof, they were only expecting about 15 cases a year. 

They report that the cases brought to Npof were in all fields with the exception of agriculture and veterinary medicine, but most of the cases were in medicine and health. The universities have to report back what they have done in the cases in which a researcher is found guilty of misconduct. In two cases, the researcher quit the university. In another, the university started a course on research ethics for the entire institution. A fourth case resulted in discussions about research ethics being conducted within the research group. 

Npof can also initiate their own investigations, but they had so much else to do, that they haven't yet had such a case. I do find it unfortunate that the person who informs Npof of a case is not considered part of the case and thus is not included in any future communication. 

The report includes much reflection on how the universities found this switch to a new body and how the body itself saw the problems that the universities have. It will be interesting to see how the work of Npof continues in the future!

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