Blow the whistle on cheating lab rats

May 11, 2007

Is your colleague fiddling his research data? Is your head of department too quick to "borrow" your ideas without acknowledging your input? Is your research student so eager to make her name that she is cutting corners in the laboratory?

If so, you may want to consider calling the UK's first research whistleblowers' "hotline", meant to ensure that misconduct is properly investigated and the perpetrators held to account.

From May 11, the UK Research Integrity Office's new hotline - 0844 77 00 644 - will be open from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday. Callers will be offered practical advice, drawing on a panel of experts, on what is and is not acceptable research practice and how to take allegations of wrongdoing forward. The hotline will also advise universities.

At present, the hotline covers only misconduct in medical research and biomedical sciences, but it plans to expand into other fields soon.

The UK RIO was launched last April, after a ten-year campaign, with a blistering attack on the UK's "good chaps" network and general complacency towards research fraud and misconduct.

But those hoping that a call to the integrity office will lead to an immediate investigation followed by remedial action will be sorely disappointed. The UK RIO has no regulatory or investigative powers. It merely dispenses advice on how to use universities' internal procedures and how to engage the relevant regulatory authorities, thereby placing the onus for action on the callers themselves.

Whistleblowers can, of course, call The Times Higher 's whistleblowers'

hotline (020 7782 3298), where they can speak in complete confidence about how cases of misconduct might be brought into the public domain.

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