Country Report Norway
National Research Integrity Landscape
Under the Research Ethics Act 2017, the main responsibility for conducting good and responsible research lies with the researchers and the research institutions. The research institutions are responsible for providing training in recognised norms of research ethics and to handle cases concerning possible breaches of these norms. In 1990, 3 National Research Ethics Committees were established by the Norwegian Parliament: for Medical and Health Research (NEM), Science and Technology (NENT) and Social Sciences and the Humanities (NESH), respectively. Their mission, given by the Ministry of Research and Education, included the prevention of research misconduct. The Act provided a legal mandate for the committees, in addition to establishing the National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct (The Commission).
National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct (National Commission)
The National Commission is financed by the state budget and is part of the administrative agency under the Ministry of Education and Research, however, operates independently of this Ministry. It has investigatory and opinion-making authority. The Research Ethics Act 2017, however, places the primer responsibility for handling research misconduct cases with local research institutions, imposing them to have procedures for dealing with breaches of research ethical norms and to establish research ethics/research integrity committees. The National Commission is primarily meant as a guiding resource for research institutions and as an eventual appeal body, besides its authority to act on own initiative.
The National Commission (and the 3 National Research Ethics Committees) are governed by the Research Ethics Act 2017, in addition to other statutory laws such as the Public Administration Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Archives Act.
Missions and tasks
The National Commission’s tasks are (1) advising research institutions on the handling of misconduct cases, and (2) processing individual misconduct cases, in first or second instance. The National Commission does not give or organise training in research ethics. Its members and the secretariat contribute to knowledge transfer by giving lectures, arranging seminars and visits to the research institutions. Additionally, the National Commission cooperates with the National Research Ethics Committees especially on (i) issuing National Guidelines for Research Ethics, and (ii) taking initiatives related to training.
The National Commission is an advisory governmental body with no sanctioning powers.
The National Commission consists of 7 members with voting rights and 4 substitutes covering different research disciplines. All members are appointed by the Ministry of Education and Research based on propositions from the Norwegian Research Council. Each period of appointment lasts for 4 years, and each member can be re-appointed once, serving a maximum of 8 years. At least one of the members should be from abroad. The Chair of the National Commission must have a judicial background. The National Commission has administrative support by the secretariat of the National Research Ethics Committees.
Scope and remit
The starting point of the Research Ethics Act 2017 is that the research institutions are obliged to handle all cases of alleged breaches of research ethics norms, whether the breaches are serious or less serious. The National Commission functions as a body of appeal in cases where a research institution has concluded that a researcher has committed research misconduct. Only the accused researcher may file an appeal, and thus the National Commission’s scope as a body of appeal is limited. Apart from being a body of appeal, the National Commission may investigate cases on its own initiative, regardless whether the cases have been investigated locally at a research institution or not. The National Commission may handle anonymous allegations. It is authorized to deal with research carried out by Norwegian public and private research institutions. Moreover, it can investigate cases abroad if the research has been carried out by researchers employed by a Norwegian institution or if a substantial part of the funding stems from Norway. Cases of students’ misconduct (bachelor- or master level) fall outside the scope of the Research Ethics Act 2017, and thus are not handled by the National Commission.
Allegations of research misconduct must be submitted in writing to the Secretariat of the National Commission. Apart from appeal cases, the National Commission can forward the allegations to the relevant research institution according to the main rule of the Research Ethics Act 2017 that cases in principle must be handled at the local level. The National Commission may reject any case, such as lack of proof for further examination or as manifestly unjustified. If the National Commission takes up a case, the investigation must follow the rules of the Public Administration Act, e.g. the right to be represented by a lawyer, to be heard and to make comments, to have access to documents and to give oral statements. Further, the National Commission must handle the case without undue delay. The National Commission reaches decisions at meetings by majority voting. In the investigations, the National Commission will normally appoint external, national or foreign, expertise. All cases investigated by the National Commission will lead to a concluding statement including at least the following: i) whether research misconduct has occurred or not, ii) system errors/critique of the system and iii) retraction of publications. The National Commission will handle the case confidentially and will exclude it from public access until the concluding statement has been issued, after which all documents are made available to the public according to the Freedom of Information Act.
Definition of research misconduct
The Research Ethics Act 2017 has a broad definition of research misconduct: “Research misconduct means falsification, fabrication, plagiarism and other serious breaches of recognised norms of research ethics, which have been committed intentionally or with gross negligence in the planning, execution or reporting of research.” The guidelines of the Norwegian National Research Ethics Committees are regarded as recognised norms, as well as other international or national guidelines. Less serious breaches of these norms are referred to in the law as plain “misconduct” as opposed to “research misconduct”. The burden of proof for research misconduct is on the institution handling the allegations, and it must be proved with clear preponderance.
(Second) opinions and appeal
In handling cases, the National Commission must give an opinion on whether the subject of the complaint either is or is not, guilty of serious research misconduct. The National Commission’s statements must be delivered in writing together with the reason for reaching the decision. Its statement is also forwarded to the institution where the accused person is employed. The National Commission’s statements are legally binding as advisory opinions and cannot be appealed.
Follow-up and monitoring
Research institutions are obliged by the law to inform the National Commission about their handling of cases concerning possible serious breaches of research misconduct. The National Commission may also decide to initiate its own investigation. In general, the research institutions have the power to sanction their researchers and monitor the measures taken against them.
As a governmental body, all National Commissions’ documents are made available to the public according to the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, the National Commission is obliged by law to publish an Annual Report of its activities. The Annual Report is available on the website www.forskningsetikk.no in the Norwegian language only.
For illustrative cases in English, see: https://www.etikkom.no/en/news/news-archive/2019/statement-regarding-possible-misconduct-at-the-university-of-agder/
For further information, see: www.forskningsetikk.no
For questions, send an e-mail to: Annette Birkeland, Director of the National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: May 2019