Country Report Italy
National Research Integrity Landscape
In Italy there is no national body on research integrity. In this country, a Committee for research integrity has been established in 2009 within the largest and most important public research institution (Italian National Research Council – CNR), a leading organization in promoting good scientific practices in Italy. The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee deals with cases of suspected research misconduct of its own institution and, on request, also of other research institutions and universities.
The Italian National Research Council (CNR)
The Italian National Research Council (CNR) was established as a public research institution in 1923. Over the years, it started with the creation of independent institutes gathered together in research areas at a regional level. Its mission is performing research activities and promoting knowledge and technology transfer (in Italy, CNR rankes first in terms of spin off and multidisciplinary research). At the end of 2018, the CNR has 7 departments (Earth system science and environmental technologies; Biology, agriculture and food sciences; Chemical sciences and materials technology; Physical sciences and technologies of matter; Biomedical sciences; Engineering, ICT and technologies for energy and transportation; Social sciences and humanities, cultural heritage), 102 research institutes spread all over the country in more than 400 sites, and more than 8.400 tenured researchers and technologists, technicians and administrators in service, plus thousands of fellowships and research contracts. The CNR holds a (i) President (ii) Vice-President (iii) Board of Directors (iv) General Manager (v) Scientific Council (vi) Central Administration, and (vi) Collegial Bodies and Committees. The CNR is financed from the State budget.
CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee (Committee)
In 2009, the CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee (hereafter also Committee) was established within the CNR. The Committee is appointed by the CNR President and operates independently, headed by a Coordinator. It includes one permanent Sub Commission dedicated to Research Integrity, one permanent Sub Commission dedicated to the release of ethical clearances for the CNR research projects, and several thematic work groups. The Committee is supported by a Scientific Secretariat, a Technical Secretariat and a Research Integrity Unit.
The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee is governed by the applicable Italian laws, CNR Statute and Regulations, the deed of appointment and the internal Regulation Act, and the CNR Guidelines on Research Integrity. The Committee is under the jurisdiction of the CNR President, but the supporting structures strategically reside in the CNR’s scientific network and not in the central administration.
Mission(s) and tasks
The Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee: evaluates research projects and releases official ethical clearances; provides the President of the CNR with scientific advice on issues falling within the Committee’s competence, particularly in international affairs and relations with similar bodies; elaborates ethical codes, guidelines, guidance documents and opinions concerning ethical issues relating to the scientific disciplinary fields of interest to the CNR; proposes criteria, methods and procedures for the evaluation and management of ethical concerns that emerge from the scientific and technological research activities carried out at CNR, as well as for issues pertaining to research integrity, and especially misconduct; examines cases of alleged research misconduct and provides ethics consulting to the CNR President for the management of cases of research misconduct.
Moreover, by way of the Committee Coordinator or members of the Scientific Secretariat, the Committee: provides ethical and juridical consultancy services to the CNR scientific network; provides ethical monitoring and mentoring of the projects carried out within the CNR; provides preventive technical advice to CNR researchers prior to the submission of scientific articles and research projects, so as to avoid unintentional forms of fabrication/falsification/plagiarism of images/data/texts, allowing them to remove undesirable elements or to revoke the consent of appearing among the authors; develops educational and specialized material and carries out training activities on subjects within its field of competence, in particular on research integrity, and organizes outreach and dissemination initiatives.
The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee is an advisory body (only the ethical clearances are legally binding). It is the only organ within the CNR with a mandate to examine e give opinions in research misconduct cases in cooperation with the Research Integrity Unit. The Committee does not impose sanctions. Such sanctions are eventually decided by the CNR President.
The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee is chaired by the President of the CNR, who does not take part of the working sessions. The Coordinator sets the plenary sessions agenda and convenes the Committee; establishes the thematic work groups and appoints the rapporteurs; invites ad acta experts for hearings; carries out all the Committee’s activities, elaborates draft documents and publishes the texts adopted by the Committee; manages the alleged cases of research misconduct in the preliminary phases; supervises the Secretariats and the Research Integrity Unit; is in charge of national and international relationships on research ethics and research integrity matters, on assignment by the CNR President.
Besides the President and the Coordinator, the Committee holds 29 members representing different scientific fields, with a prevalence in social sciences an humanities experts (www.cnr.it/en/ethics). All members of the Committee have voting rights and serve for a 3-years-term/mandate (renewable). The members of the Committee operate as volunteers on an honorary basis (free of charge).
Scope and remit
The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee in cooperation with the Research Integrity Unit has the responsibility for cases of alleged research misconduct. Allegations must concern research activities carried out by CNR staff or carried out with CNR funds, or publications with authors affiliated to the CNR. In agreement with the President of the CNR, the Committee may accept to examine allegations not related to CNR upon request of the head of other research institutions and universities, public or private.
Any one from the public or research/academic institutions or journals, etc., can address to the Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee to report a case. The Committee never handles anonymous allegations.
Reports of alleged research misconduct, adequately documented, can be submitted: (a) by writing to the Committee at the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org; by post, at the address: Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee of the CNR, Via dei Taurini, 19 – 00185, Rome, Italy; (c) by contacting the Institute Director, the Director of Department, The Director General or the President of the CNR.
Subsequently, the Coordinator of the Committee contacts the alleged person to analyse with her/him the allegation and, if appropriate, requests a technical report to the Research Integrity Unit. Then, after pseudonymization, the Coordinator submits cases of alleged research misconduct to the Committee for evaluation, together with the documentation submitted in support of the allegation, if necessary, as well as explanations and possible counter-arguments made in this respect by the CNR staff named in the allegations. If appropriate, in addition to this documentation, the Coordinator submits a technical report analysing the fabrication/falsification/plagiarism of images/data/texts prepared together with the Research Integrity Unit of the Committee using software developed for this purpose. All documentation sent to the Committee will be circulated only within the Committee. At the end of the procedure, the Committee may release an ethical advisory report to the President, which is transmitted also to the alleged person. An information note on the outcome is also sent to the whistleblower.
The authors of the allegations and the personnel named in the allegations will be granted confidentiality, within the limits of the law, during the process of analysis and evaluation of the case as well as after the eventual release of the ethical advisory report by the Committee. As a standard, the reporter of the alleged research misconduct will not take part in the process.
In principle, the case is handled within the Committee, which first aim is to work together with the accused to correct the consequences of her/his eventual misconduct, hence, not to recommend sanctions, but to ensure high quality of research. Only when the inappropriate behaviour concerns serious research misconduct, the President may decide to apply disciplinary sanctions.
Definition of research misconduct
The CNR definitions of research integrity and research misconduct are the following: “By research integrity we intend the body of principles and ethical values, deontological obligations and professional standards that form the basis of the responsible and correct conduct of those who carry out, finance or evaluate scientific research, as well as the institutions that promote and perform it. The application of principles and values, and the respect for deontology and professional ethics and standards guarantee the quality of the research and enhance the reputation and public image of science, greatly contributing to its advancements and to progress in society”; “Research misconduct normally refers to violations of the ethical principles and values, as well as the ethical duties and professional standards on which responsible and correct conduct is based by those who carry out, finance or evaluate scientific research and by the institutions that promote and perform that research”.
For the CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee, in deciding on the alleged research misconduct, the CNR Guidelines on Research Integrity (first version of 2015, revised in 2019) are decisive. The Guidelines distinguish between misconduct and irresponsible/questionable conduct. For incorrect behaviour to consitute research misconduct, the behaviour must be serious and intentional. This includes fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. Besides, the guidelines specifically indicate what other (mis)behaviour constitutes research misconduct in the different phases of research including the phase of (1) design, development and planning (2) application (3) publication (4) evaluation (5) internal relationships, and (6) dissemination.
Conclusions and appeal
The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee bases its judgments on the CNR Statute and Regulations, on internal norms of the Committee and the CNR Guidelines on Research Integrity revised in 2019. It is not bound by time limits in writing its report, but it ensures that cases are dealt with rapidly. The ethical advisory report released by the Committee goes to the CNR President and to the alleged researcher. As a standard, the reporter is not part in the process but is informed of the outcome. Appeal against the Committee’s opinions is always possible. In most serious cases, the President of the CNR may decide to apply disciplinary sanctions. Appeal of CNR’s decisions on disciplinary measures may be appealed against in court. Presidents of other research institutions or Deans of Universities may address to the CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee for non-binding advice on a case of alleged research misconduct within their organisation.
Follow-up and monitoring
The follow-up and monitoring of personnel of the CNR who have been subject to investigation on alleged research misconduct by the Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee takes place by the Coordinator of the Committee and the Research Integrity Unit, giving support to the researcher in the subsequent actions.
The CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee reports on its activities on the CNR website in the Italian and English language. It does not publish alleged cases it has handled regarding the personnel of the CNR, or, in some cases, of personnel of other research institutions or universities.
For further information, see: https://www.cnr.it/en/ethics
For questions, send an e-mail to: Coordinator (email@example.com)
To submit an allegation, write to the CNR Research Ethics and Bioethics Committee at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last update: May 2019