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Research Misconduct FAQ

Review these frequently asked questions about Research Misconduct.

What is Research Misconduct?

Research Misconduct is defined by federal law and University policy as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. 

  • Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
  • Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research records.
  • Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.

If you suspect that Research Misconduct has occurred, contact Sandra Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research and Research Integrity Officer (RIO) at (858) 534-3526 or, to submit an oral or written complaint. 

Research Misconduct (as defined by federal law) does not include disputes about authorship or attribution of credit, confidentiality, access to data, honest error or differences of opinion.  Questionable or improper practices that are not defined as Research Misconduct may be considered misconduct under other University policies including, but not limited to, conflict of interest, intellectual property, biosafety, use of human and animal subjects, financial management, use of University facilities, outside professional activities, employee relations and faculty-student relations.

For disputes related to research that do not involve Research Misconduct, please contact the appropriate research group, center or department and/or Department Head.

Who are the key players?

  • Research Integrity Officer (RIO) / Administrator
    RIO: Sandra A. Brown, PhD, Vice Chancellor for Research
    Administrator: Angela McMahill, JD, Executive Director of Research Compliance and Integrity
  • Respondent
    A person who is the subject of an allegation
  • Complainant
    A person who makes an allegation
  • Witness
    Any person(s) pertinent to the Research Misconduct Inquiry or Investigation
  • Standing Inquiry Committee for Integrity of Research
    The Committee, consisting of seven to nine faculty, is selected for disciplinary breadth in consultation with the Academic Senate.  The Committee’s charge is to examine relevant research records and conduct interviews to determine whether there is Probable Cause that Research Misconduct may have occurred, warranting Investigation.  Members of the Committee are guided by UC San Diego Integrity of Research PPM 100-4 and University Guidelines for conducting an inquiry.
  • Investigation Committee
    The RIO shall appoint an Investigation Committee consisting of at least three (3) or more academic scholars.  Individuals appointed to the Investigation committee may also have served on the Standing Inquiry Committee.

All of those involved in Research Misconduct review, especially committee members, must ensure confidentiality regarding the people and incidents related to the cases.

What is the difference between a “complainant” and a “respondent”?

A “complainant” is a person who makes an allegation of Research Misconduct. A “respondent” is a person against whom an allegation of Research Misconduct is directed or who is the subject of a Research Misconduct proceeding.  Both the complainant and respondent are responsible for maintaining confidentiality and cooperating with the conduct of an inquiry and investigation.

What is the process for reviewing a Research Misconduct complaint?

The Research Integrity Officer (RIO) is the individual responsible for oversight of Research Misconduct at UC San Diego.  Sandra Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research, is the RIO at UC San Diego.

The first stage in reviewing a complaint of Research Misconduct is a preliminary assessment to determine whether the complaint falls within the definition of Research Misconduct and if so, whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant an inquiry.  The allegation must be credible and specific so that evidence of the Research Misconduct can be identified.

If the RIO determines that an inquiry is warranted, a panel of faculty members (the Standing Inquiry Committee) will review the evidence and interview key witnesses.  If the Standing Inquiry Committee concludes that there is probable cause that Research Misconduct may have occurred, an investigation will be initiated. 

During an investigation, a separate panel of faculty members with appropriate scientific expertise will review the evidence in depth and interview relevant witnesses.  At the conclusion of the investigation, the panel will make a recommendation regarding whether, by a preponderance of the evidence, the respondent engaged in Research Misconduct and, if so, whether the respondent acted intentionally, knowingly or recklessly.  In order for there to be a finding of Research Misconduct, there must be:

  1. A significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community, and
  2. The misconduct be committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, and
  3. The allegation be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

Possible Paths for Research Misconduct Review
Research Misconduct reviews can follow any of these paths:

RM flow chart

For more information about the procedures at each stage of reviewing a complaint, see the Integrity of Research Policy and Procedures.

What are my rights if I am accused of Research Misconduct?

Information about confidentiality of the proceedings in a Research Misconduct case and other precautions to protect the rights of both the respondent and the complainant are included in the Integrity of Research Policy and Procedures.  The rights of the respondent include the opportunity to testify, to be accompanied by an advisor during any interview (for the purposes of observation and advice) and if an allegation lacks substance or if there is no finding of Research Misconduct, reasonable and practical efforts will be made by the RIO to protect or restore the respondent’s reputation.

How can I help to prevent Research Misconduct?

Research Misconduct investigations are difficult for everyone involved, particularly the respondent.  The following are some strategies researchers can employ to avoid being the subject of an allegation of Research Misconduct:
  • Monitor the research in which you are involved. Inform your staff, students and collaborators that you will verify data collection, entry and reporting. Ask questions about questionable results.
  • Set reasonable expectations about the time it will take to collect the necessary data.
  • Always maintain thorough and complete research records.
  • Do not deviate from the protocol without obtaining the necessary approvals, for example, from the IRB, IACUC, etc.
  • Communicate with the Principal Investigator and members of the research team any actual or perceived problems with the research.
  • Carefully and accurately report the research.  Be specific about methods and procedures used and the data obtained.
  • Thoroughly review all papers where you are listed as an author.
  • Do not give or agree to honorary author status.  This is inconsistent with the guidelines provided by the Office of Research Integrity, Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research (PDF).
  • Promote research integrity in your courses and labs.  Encourage attendance and completion of the Responsible Conduct of Research programs.

How do I report suspected Research Misconduct?

If you suspect that Research Misconduct has occurred, contact Sandra Brown, Vice Chancellor for Research and Research Integrity Officer (RIO) at (858) 534-3526 or, to submit an oral or written complaint.

If you are unsure whether a suspected incident falls within the definition of Research Misconduct, you may consult with the RIO to discuss the incident informally, which may include discussing it anonymously and/or hypothetically.

What resources are available if I’m involved in a Research Misconduct action?

For members of the research community involved in a Research Misconduct action, UC San Diego provides support and assistance in finding a solution.  Refer to the Research Misconduct Resources Factsheet for information regarding resources.
For more information, contact the Office of Research Compliance and Integrity at (858) 822-4939.