Queen’s academic serves as external committee member in research misconduct investigation

University of Guelph researcher cleared of allegations by panel

Cynthia Fekken outlined the national guidelines and policies around similar investigations. 

When allegations of researchers partaking in unethical practices surface, universities and federal agencies investigate these claims, according to a Queen’s professor.

In a recent case at the University of Guelph, an allegation of scientific misconduct was made against a researcher. The allegations stemmed from concerns around data falsification and supposed plagiarism.    

After going through the investigative procedures, the investigation committee determined the researcher did not engage in scientific misconduct.

Queen’s Associate Head of Psychology, Cynthia Fekken, was the external committee member on the panel that investigated the researcher. Fekken is also a research integrity officer at Queen’s. 

“Research integrity concerns the open, rigorous, and honest pursuit of science and scholarship. It helps us trust the research, the researcher, and the institution for which they work,” Fekken said in a statement to The Journal.  

Fekken highlighted the role of federal research funding agencies in Canada in dictating standards and policies for universities across the country to follow. 

Fekken said the Tri Agencies—composed of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)—which provide significant research funding, can’t be accessed unless Canadian universities have a research integrity policy. 

“The Secretariat sets the Tri Agency Framework on the Responsible Conduct of Research 2021. This policy is the model for local integrity policies, including Queen’s policy, the Senate Policy of Integrity in Research,” Fekken said. 

Fekken said these policies outline researchers’ responsibilities and outlines procedures institutions must follow when a complaint is filed about a breach of academic integrity. 

When full investigations are required, a committee is formed. 

“All universities must have a member on the committee who is external to their own university. That external member is required to have training in research integrity,” Fekken said. 

“There is a large pool of people trained to serve as research integrity officers in Canada. Many are members of the Responsible Conduct of Research Forum or attend annual conferences and workshops.”

Fekken outlined the review process on the initial committee’s investigation report. According to her, the report is reviewed by senior administrators at the university where the researcher works—these administrators have the power to levy university-based sanctions.

According to Fekken, at the end of the review process, a panel of nine senior academics review the redacted report. This panel reports to the presidents of the Tri Agencies who have final authority over investigations.

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