Country Report France
National Research Integrity Landscape
France has a national institutional structure on research integrity in the French Office for Research Integrity (OFIS). The latter is located as a new department within the national agency on evaluation of research, the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). OFIS is considered as the national advisory body on research integrity in France, acting as a national interdisciplinary supporting platform. The primer responsibility to prevent and handle research misconduct cases is with the research institutions, which generally – in contrary to OFIS – have investigatory and decision-making authority within its institutions such as universities, CNRS (firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com), INSERM (firstname.lastname@example.org), CIRAD (email@example.com), and other research bodies. In fact, this is where research institutions commit to when signing the National Charter for Research Integrity of 2015. By the end of April 2019, more than 45 research institutions – including the aforementioned institutions, and the CPU (Conference des Presidents d’Université) and CDEFI (Conference of Directors of French Engineering Schools) – signed this Charter, obliging them to assign a Research Integrity Officer to deal with research misconduct cases within its institutions. At the end of April 2019, more than 95 Research Integrity Officers in France were appointed and united in a network RESINT, but more Research Integrity Officers need to be appointed. RESINT is important, in that it aims to create uniformity in procedures on the local level. For example, in December 2018 it published its Guide to Recording and Processing Reports relating to Research Integrity. Earlier, the Ministerial Order of 25 May 2016 already established a national training framework, based upon which doctoral schools must ensure that each doctoral student receives training in research ethics and research integrity.
In March 2017, the then Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research announced the launch of a national structure for research integrity, the French Office for Research Integrity (OFIS), to be located as a new department within the independent administrative authority of the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). The creation of OFIS was among the first measures implemented by the French government, following the conclusions of a report of 2016 named Assessment and proposals for the implementation of the national charter for research integrity by Pierre Corvol, then vice-president of the French Academy of Sciences. The latter was assigned by the then Minister of Education and Research to write a report on research integrity after a big research misconduct case by a CNRS scientist. The launch of OFIS was taken in the context of active promotion of research integrity by the French government, marked by the first annual Conference of Signatories to the National Charter for Research Integrity on 22 March 2017. OFIS’ budget is included in the overall funding of HCERES i.e. is funded by state budget, but operates independently from the French government.
OFIS is governed by the National Charter for Research Integrity of 2015. This Charter was written and initially signed by the President of the CPU and four major research institutions in France. Structured around 7 core principles, it aims to establish the necessary criteria for rigourous and trustworthy scientific work, particularly relevant to all national and international partnerships. The core principles are (1) compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements (2) reliability of research work (3) communication (4) responsibility in collective work (5) impartiality and independence in evaluation and expertise (6) collaborative and plurality of activities, and (7) training. In signing the Charter, the signatory reasserts the importance of research integrity, the code of conduct essential to all research, and the ethical standards expected of all its member institutions in France. The signatory must adhere to the values and principles of research integrity and fully commits to defending these values and principles and working to ensure their adoption and application by its institution(s), according to the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.
Missions(s) and tasks
OFIS has a threefold mission, to act as (1) a forum for reflection (i) contributing to define a national scientific integrity policy (ii) coordinating reflection on defining standards, opinions and recommendations (iii) accompaning higher education and research institutions within the Conference of Signatories of the National Charter for Research Integrity (2) an observatory (i) managing a national observatory on implementation of the commitments in the National Charter for Research Integrity and on practices complying with the international standards (ii) conducting intelligence activities (iii) disseminating information (notably on new forms of research: participatory science, big data, re-use of data and open science), and (3) a coordinator (i) fostering the harmonisation and sharing of scientific integrity practices (ii) coordinating and promoting the work of the network of so-called Research Integrity Officers in research institutions (iii) encouraging research in this area, and (4) a national body on research integrity: representing France at European and international levels. It, too, has a role towards RESINT for promoting their work and for helping them in their training.
OFIS has no investigatory and decision-making authority nor can it mediate in research misconduct cases. Within its scope, is it authorized to execute its missions and tasks as described above.
OFIS’ department consists in an operational team of 4 members since 2018 (including a director, 2 scientific advisors and 1 project manager). The members are appointed by the President of HCERES, in accordance with a proposal of the Scientific Integrity Council of OFIS (CIS) within HCERES. The CIS was established by HCERES simultaneously with the OFIS to guide and supervise the OFIS, reporting to the President of HCERES. CoFIS is also known as the French Advisory Board Research Integrity (CoFIS). This Board is composed of 12 (inter)national member experts including a Chair. All are appointed on personal title by the President of HCERES for a 2-year-period which term can be renewed for a 2-years period. With its equal presentation of women and men and its broad coverage of different disciplines, its members have experience in (i) scientific integrity (ii) the organisation of the higher education and research system in France, and (iii) new forms of open science research. The Board is responsible for outlining the strategy of the OFIS.
Scope and remit
The scope of OFIS is nationwide: it provides advice and guidance on issues of good scientific practice and misconduct in research relating to any projects that involve French research organisations or research carried out in France. OFIS provides recommendations to strengthen and harmonize training within universities and research bodies (students and PhD students, senior researchers), in order to emphasise best pratices and to avoid misconduct. OFIS is also planning regular workshops with and for research integrity officers, in order to share their experience through illustrative cases studies, and to provide practical advice. The remit of OFIS is restricted: it can ask adherence and commitment to the National Charter for Research Integrity from its signatories only. It is authorised to promote the signing of the Charter, though. Once a year, OFIS organizes the meeting of signatories of the National Charter. On that occasion, the universities and the other research instutions exchange on their policy and procedures’ advances, and share their needs with OFIS.
Based on the report of 2016 named Assessment and proposals for the implementation of the national charter for research integrity by Pierre Corvol – and confirmed by OFIS on its webpage – the research institutions in general and the signatories of the Charter in particular, must adopt a general policy on research integrity which is monitored by a Research Integrity Officer reporting to the head of the institution in question. Further, each research institution is and remains responsible for handling any research misconduct brought to the attention of its organisation and ensures that appropriate action is taken. When a suspected violation is reported (plagiarism, falsification or fabrication of data, conflicts of interest, questionable research practices), the institution acts promptly to implement a procedure similar to an administrative investigation, under the operational responsibility of its Research Integrity Officer. The investigation collects, examines and appraises the facts pertaining to the report, hearing witnesses and calling in experts where applicable. This investigation is conducted objectively, with due process and in a manner that respects the presumption of innocence and protects all those involved. If the investigation confirms the allegation, all necessary measures are taken promptly from the academic (correction or withdrawal of the articles, for example), disciplinary and civil points of view, where applicable.
Definition of research misconduct
The National Charter for Research Integrity does not include a definition of research misconduct. On its webpage, OFIS in this respect refers to the European Code for Research Integrity, defining research misconduct as: fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Additionally, the Code refers to other unacceptable practices which may consist research misconduct, to include but not confined to, for example, manipulating authorship or denigrating the role of other researchers in publications or re-publishing substantive parts of one’s own earlier publications, including translations, without duly acknowledging or citing the original (‘self-plagiarism’).
Opinions and appeal
Opinions or recommendations of OFIS are not meant as substitute for legal advices from suitable qualified persons, hence, these are not appealable. On the local level, appeal with the administrative court is possible on measures taken by research institutions in case of alleged research misconduct, resulting in suspension or dismissal.
Follow-up and monitoring
Based on the report of 2016 named Assessment and proposals for the implementation of the national charter for research integrity by Pierre Corvol – and confirmed by OFIS on its webpage – research institutions, in liaison with OFIS, must investigate the lessons which can be learned from analysed cases on alleged research misconduct in order to improve the prevention of violations of good scientific practice in the future.
Based on the report of 2016 named Assessment and proposals for the implementation of the national charter for research integrity by Pierre Corvol – and confirmed by OFIS on its webpage – results of investigations on alleged research misconduct by research institutions must be made public, ensuring the right balance between transparency and the protection of the persons involved (sources, witnesses and other people concerned, including the accused). OFIS itself publishes its activities on its webpage on the website of HCERES. Also, the CoFIS is transparent, in that it, too, publishes its Minutes of Board Meetings on this website.
For illustrative cases in English, see: http://www.cnrs.fr/en/scientific-misconduct-cnrs-announces-penalties-against-two-senior-researchers
For further information, see: www.hceres.fr/en/french-office-for-research
For questions, send an e-mail to: Joelle Alnot, Director of the Department of OFIS (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: May 2019