About Research Misconduct

Under Debra Thurley Associate Vice President for Research and Director of the Office for Research Protections, Dr. Courtney Karmelita oversees of the Research Integrity Program and serves as the Research Integrity Officer (RIO) for all of Penn State University, including the College of Medicine, Commonwealth campuses, and all institutes and labs. Contact Dr. Karmelita to report potential research misconduct or learn more about reporting potential research misconduct


Research misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. The three types of misconduct are defined below:

Fabrication is defined as making up data or results and recording or reporting them.

Falsification is defined as manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.

Plagiarism is defined as the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. 

Note that research misconduct does not include authorship disputes. Utilize these Authorship Guidelines to prevent authorship issues. Research misconduct also does not include honest error or differences of opinion. 

All definitions regarding research misconduct come from Penn State Policy RP02 and align with federal regulations (e.g., PHS and NSF) but apply to all research, not just work funded by federal sponsors.

Research Misconduct and Students

Because multiple University policies or guidelines may apply to allegations and cases of student research misconduct, we have developed guidance to help determine the appropriate policy or procedure to initiate or follow.

Roles and Responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of those involved in research misconduct proceedings, Complainants (those who file a misconduct complaint) and Respondents (those who are accused of misconduct) are described in Penn State Policy RP02 and the associated standard operating procedures. 

Duty to cooperate (AD88): Faculty and staff members and students are expected to comply with this policy and applicable regulations. Anyone having reason to believe that a member of the faculty, staff or student body has engaged in research misconduct has a responsibility to report pertinent facts (RP02). Any individual having reason to believe that a member of the University faculty, staff, or student body has engaged in Wrongful Conduct can report such suspected Wrongful Conduct to the designated contacts below.  A report should include a description of the facts, avoid speculation and predetermined conclusions, and be based on a good faith reason to believe that suspected Wrongful Conduct has occurred (AD67).

Good faith allegations: Allegations should only be reported in good faith when they are supported by sufficient, credible evidence. “A bad faith allegation is one that the complainant does not believe to be true or whose belief that the allegation is true is unreasonable, based on what a reasonable person in the complainant’s position would believe on the basis of information known to the complainant” (42 CFR Part 93). Allegations made in bad faith, or a retaliatory manner are subject to Penn State Policy AD67. 

Roles: A Respondent is "the person against whom an allegation of research misconduct is directed or who is the subject of a research misconduct proceeding" (42 CFR Part 93.225). A Complainant is the individual making the allegation of research misconduct. Complainants are treated as any other witness in the proceeding and do not control nor direct the process or act as a decision maker.  The Research Integrity Officer (RIO) is responsible for carrying out the processes set forth in Penn State Policy RP02 and ensuring that conflicts of interest do not exist.  

SVPR Responsibilities: The Senior Vice President for Research (SVPR) is the Deciding Official per Penn State Policy RP02 and has ultimate authority for the proceedings and, among many duties, will determine the following: when a release of information outside the university may be appropriate; take whatever actions deemed appropriate to protect research funds or equipment or the legitimate interests of patients or clients; work with other university officials to help restore the reputation of a Respondent found not to have committed misconduct.

Confidentiality: The RIO will protect the confidentiality of the Complainant, research subjects identifiable in the research record or evidence, and the Respondent(s) to the extent possible by limiting the disclosure to only those who must be made aware.  The RIO may notify the appropriate University administrators and/or officials as necessary, including sponsors.  Anonymity cannot be guaranteed.  

Data Sequestration: “On or before the date on which the Respondent is notified, or the Inquiry begins, whichever is earlier, the Research Integrity Officer shall take all reasonable and practical steps to obtain custody of all the research records and evidence needed to conduct the research misconduct proceeding, inventory the records and evidence, and sequester them in a secure manner” (RP02).  Sequestering data protects the integrity of the university and its process, and protect the person accused of misconduct by preventing any claims of subsequent alterations of data. When providing documentation, note that: 

  • Written documentation is typically more helpful than a recollection of conversations or events 
  • When sharing emails, forward the original email with a brief summary about the relevance to the case 
  • Make note of how data is stored for that particular research, including specific locations or devices  
  • What types and sources of evidence are relevant to the case