Two federal universities based in the state of São Paulo, one of them in one of the cities in the ABC region (UFABC) and the other in São Carlos (UFSCar), have established internal offices dedicated to promoting good scientific practices and investigating instances of misconduct. This means that they are the first public universities in São Paulo to set up units to coordinate actions taken in education, prevention, and analysis of allegations of improper conduct. The Code of Good Scientific Practices published by FAPESP in 2011 stipulated that research institutions that have projects supported by the Foundation must have organizational units assigned to promote educational activities about research integrity, advise students and professors, and to investigate and—if necessary, punish—cases of misconduct. In Brazil, universities like the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Federal University of Goiás (UFG) have also set up units of this type.
Founded 10 years ago, UFABC has 590 professors, 12,400 undergraduate students, and 1,127 graduate students. “So far, we haven’t had any episodes of misconduct, but we need to be ready in case something happens,” says Igor Leite Freire, a professor at the university’s Center for Mathematics, Computation, and Cognition and assistant dean of research, appointed to head the new office. “Our teaching staff is young and the questions related to research integrity are complicated, i.e., they are not limited to problems that the average person can identify, such as plagiarism or fraud. Those issues can be resolved in this office,” he says.
The office at UFABC was established in August 2015. It will draft its internal regulations during its first three months of activity. Preventive and educational actions are the main focus of the office, which provide guidance to students and researchers while remaining alert to the need to investigate allegations of misconduct. One concern is to make sure that inquiries are kept confidential in order to prevent tarnishing the reputation of researchers during an inquiry. “We need to have clear and precise rules in order to prevent an eventual punishment from being challenged in court,” Freire says.
The concern about research integrity at UFABC is not new. After attending the 3rd Brispe (Brazilian Meeting on Research Integrity, Science, and Publication Ethics), an event held at FAPESP headquarters in 2014, which attracted experts and presented experiences from Brazil and other countries (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue nº 223), Harki Tanaka, then dean of research at UFABC, organized a workshop on research integrity at UFABC. Speakers included FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz. The idea of creating an office began to take shape after that event and was carried forward by current Dean of Research Marcela Sorelli Carneiro Ramos and UFABC Chancellor Klaus Capelle. “That event helped the university make the decision to establish the office,” Freire says. The announcement was made several days prior to the second workshop in research integrity, held in August 2015.
In the case of UFSCar, its Committee on Ethical Integrity in Research (CIEP) was established at the end of 2014 by an initiative launched by the office of the dean of research. The goal is to strengthen actions already underway and to put into practice one of the guidelines of the UFSCar Institutional Development Plan, which is to “ensure that academic activities are guided by ethical precepts.” Committee by-laws are being evaluated by the legal department of the university and will need to be ratified by the Research Council. Composed of members from various fields, the committee handles educational activities and responds to consultations about research integrity. Among its plans is development of a course on research integrity, aimed at graduate students. “We will work with the Graduate Studies Council to determine whether it will be a compulsory course,” says Ana Abreu, a professor at the Center for Education and Human Sciences and chairman of the CIEP.
The committee will be able to help investigate possible cases of scientific misconduct. It is completing a document entitled Diretrizes da UFSCar sobre ética na pesquisa [UFSCar guidelines on ethics in research], which will be submitted for public comment in October 2015. UFSCar, which now has four campuses, has 1,186 professors, 14,299 undergraduate students, and 3,915 graduate students.