In 2015 the faculty board of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Linköping University received a report that questioned the conduct of research into corneas being carried out by a professor. As specified by the currently valid regulations at Linköping University, an inquiry was commenced. An external group of three experts was commissioned by the faculty board of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and the final statement made by this group to the faculty board concluded that the professor had acted carelessly. On the basis of the definition of scientific misconduct laid down by the Swedish Research Council, the faculty board decided on 3 March 2016 to criticise the professor for misconduct, by repeated lack of care and erroneous authorship.
The professor requested that the decision be reviewed, and that a statement from the expert group of the Central Ethical Review Board for misconduct in research should, in association with this, be obtained. A statement from the expert group constitutes a basis against which the review of the original decision is to be conducted, but it is not binding.
The expert group of the Central Ethical Review Board levelled criticism against the professor on several points, but came to the conclusion that this was not a case of scientific misconduct. The case was referred back to the faculty board with this statement.
The faculty board of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences has today reached a decision in the review of the case.
Against the background of the complexity of the case and with access to not only new information that has arisen in the case (from sources that include the Medical Products Agency) but also the statement from the Central Ethical Review Board, the faculty board finds that the professor has not carried out misconduct with respect to carelessness in documentation or compliance with regulations.
With respect to the point concerning authorship by the professor, the faculty board does not agree with the assessment of the expert group that the degree of severity lies below the limit for what can be considered to be misconduct. The professor has not been aware of the circumstances of the study, nor participated in its planning or execution. The considerable realignment, from having produced corneas for animal experiments and reacting with consternation at the study being carried out on patients without the knowledge of the professor, to taking the role of senior author of the publication, is remarkable. It is the opinion of the faculty board that this gives misleading information about the role of the professor in the study, and consequently that it falls within the definition of misconduct laid down by the Swedish Research Council. On this point, therefore, the decision of the faculty board about scientific misconduct is confirmed.
Good conduct in research is not solely a matter of following regulations. It requires also that good research practice is followed in a manner that creates confidence. This is particularly important in clinical medical research in which people are involved.
“For this reason, the assessment of misconduct is a matter that is to be determined principally by researchers. In an overall assessment, the faculty board has taken a decision that differs to a certain extent from that previously taken, but it remains the opinion of the board that the professor’s management of authorship constitutes, within the scientific community, misconduct,” says Dean Johan Dabrosin Söderholm.
Thus, the decision of the faculty board differs to a certain extent from the statement of the Central Ethical Review Board.
“This has been a difficult and complex case, and its investigation has taken a long time. Opinion in the research community is divided about what is to be considered misconduct, and about how the degree of severity is to be assessed in these contexts,” Johan Dabrosin Söderholm continues. “This is clear from, among other things, the different conclusions that the experts that were commissioned arrived at. The faculty board has assessed the issue from a perspective of medical science.”
Linköping University welcomes the proposal to form a special authority to investigate and decide on suspected misconduct in research, with proposed starting date 1 January 2019.
“We need a clearer Swedish definition of what constitutes misconduct in research – both in general and within different scientific fields. We also need a simpler and more clearly defined process of inquiry,” says Johan Dabrosin Söderholm.
Against the background of the decision taken by the faculty board of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the case has now been passed to Vice-Chancellor Helen Dannetun for assessment of whether the misconduct that has been established by the faculty board is to lead to the university taking any measures in the field of employment law against the professor.
It is expected that the vice-chancellor will reach a decision in this assessment during April 2017.
May 2015: The faculty board at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Linköping University receives information that questions the research conduct of a professor.
June 2015: The internal inquiry group of the faculty is commissioned to start an inquiry.
September 2015: An external inquiry group is commissioned by the faculty board of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
3 March 2016: The faculty board decides to criticise the professor for misconduct, by repeated lack of care and erroneous authorship.
The professor requests that the decision taken on 3 March 2016 be reviewed, and that a statement be obtained from the expert group of the Central Ethical Review Board.
9 March 2017: The expert group of the Central Ethical Review Board reaches a decision about its statement to the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at LiU.
6 April 2017: The faculty board of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences reaches a decision in the case and passes the case to the vice-chancellor for the assessment of possible measures.