Research misconduct

Wellcome is committed to ensuring high standards of research integrity and practice in the research it funds.

As part of this, we expect researchers to follow our guidelines on good research practice and other Wellcome policies. We also expect UK research organisations to follow the Universities UK concordat to support research integrity, and those outside the UK to follow appropriate guidelines of a similar standard.

We use the concordat’s definition of research misconduct, and we expect the organisations that we fund to do the same.

The concordat defines misconduct as “behaviour or actions that fall short of the standards of ethics, research and scholarship required to ensure that the integrity of research is upheld.” This includes fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or deception in performing or reviewing research, and in reporting research outputs.

For example, omitting relevant data, manipulating images, or misusing data by deliberately attempting to re-identify people from research data are all research misconduct.

It does not include honest differences in the design, execution or interpretation in evaluating research methods or results, or research of poor quality unless this encompasses the intention to deceive.

Responsibilities of the host organisation

Wellcome requires host organisations to investigate all allegations of research misconduct involving researchers that we fund, and to have formal written procedures for handling these allegations.

It is the responsibility of the host organisation to:

  1. Identify a senior member of staff to act as a first point of contact for anyone wanting to raise issues relating to research misconduct at the organisation.
  2. Carry out an impartial, fair and timely investigation of all allegations of research misconduct made against its staff and students. 
  3. Inform Wellcome’s Director of Grants, in confidence, about any allegations of research misconduct made against employees at the organisation who are funded by Wellcome or have an application for funding under consideration. Information on the category of research misconduct and the investigation process must be provided. This should be done as soon as possible, and in any event no later than the point at which a decision is made to conduct an investigation, preliminary or otherwise. If there is a full investigation, the host organisation must tell Wellcome the name of the respondent, in confidence.
  4. Keep Wellcome informed during the process of investigation of allegations of research misconduct. We may choose to send a representative to observe any formal inquiry. Investigations should conclude within one year of receiving the allegation.
  5. Inform Wellcome of the outcome of the investigation as soon as it is known and provide us with the final investigation report.

The UK Research Integrity Office’s recommended procedure for investigation provides a detailed model that may be helpful to organisations in the UK and elsewhere.

Sanctions

If the host organisation or Wellcome determines that the allegation of research misconduct is substantiated, we will consider appropriate sanctions, including:

Where allegations of research misconduct are upheld, we expect organisations to implement appropriate disciplinary procedures.

If a host organisation fails to conduct a timely investigation, or to keep Wellcome appropriately informed of its actions, we may choose to apply sanctions against the organisation. This may include not accepting new grant applications or, in extreme cases, suspending funding to the organisation.

Handling of allegations by Wellcome

There may be instances where allegations of research misconduct are made directly to a member of our staff rather than to an individual within the host organisation.

In such instances, having discussed the circumstances with the informant, we will inform an appropriate individual at the host organisation and the organisation will then be responsible for taking suitable action in line with its formal written procedures for handling allegations.

Wellcome will not form an opinion on any allegation until an investigation has been completed and will only provide information to our staff or external advisors as necessary.

If an informant wishes to remain anonymous, this will be respected unless:

The informant will be notified of any proposed change to their anonymity.

Investigations by Wellcome

As stated above, it is the host organisation's responsibility to investigate allegations of research misconduct and this is our preferred course of action.

In exceptional cases, we may undertake our own investigation into alleged cases of research misconduct that concern Wellcome-funded researchers (for example, where our reputation is at risk or we are dissatisfied with the investigation undertaken by the host organisation).

Any investigations will only be undertaken following consultation with the appropriate representative(s) of the host organisation.

October 2017

(This is an updated version. The first version of this statement was published in January 2002.)

Contact us

If you have questions about any of our policies, contact the policy team.