Country Report Sweden
National Research Integrity Landscape
Under the current system, Sweden has a national institutional structure on research integrity in the Ethics Appeals Review Board (ONEP) holding an Expert Group on Research Misconduct with investigatory and decision-making authority in alleged research misconduct cases, serving as a second advisory body only. The responsibility to deal with alleged cases of research misconduct is with the research institutions. As Sweden lacks a national code for research integrity, this system led to different terminologies on research misconduct and different procedures for handling research misconduct cases within research institutions on the local level. The Swedish Research Council, Sweden’s largest governmental research funding body, for example, has its own ethical guidelines and internal Expert Group on Ethics. Public and private research institutions that do not fall under the scope of the Expert Group on Resarch Misconduct, too, may have internal procedures and ethics committees to deal with research misconduct cases. The majority, however, does not have these.
A new law is due to enter into force per 1 September 2019 which is based on the Inquiry ‘New procedures for promoting good scientific practice and handling research misconduct’. Under this new law, the Expert Group on Research Misconduct will be replaced by a new independent national agency on research integrity, the Research Misconduct Board (RMB). The RMB will be authorised to exclusively handle all cases of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism (the so-called FFP-category). The (serious) research misconduct cases outside the FFP-category and questionable research practices remain the responsibility of the research institutions. To avoid diversity, the Inquiry underlying the new law, proposes that the RMB, the Swedish Resourch Council and the Swedish scientific community collaborate to produce a National Code of Conduct for Good Scientific Practices.
Ethics Appeals Review Board (ONEP)
As of 1 January 2004, the Ethical Review Act went into force. The Act deals with vetting the ethics of research, involving human beings and covering areas as research on deceased, biological material from people and research, but also involving sensitive information about people or personal information concerning offences against the law. Under this Act, 6 independent (regional) authorities were established, and 1 ethical vetting (supervising) board, the CEPN. As of January 1, 2019 the six regional authorities was gathered in one; the Ethic Review Board and CEPN changed its name to the Ethics Appeals Review Board (ONEP). The latter is established as an independent statutory body under the Department of Education.
The Expert Group on Research Misconduct (Expert Group)
As of 1 January 2010, the predecessor of ONEP (CEPN) was given a new task: in accordance with Section 9 of the Statute containing instructions for the ONEP (CEPN) (2007:1068), the Expert Group on Research Misconduct (hereafter Expert Group) was appointed to deal with research misconduct cases in appeal. It is funded by state budget, but operates independently from the other organs within ONEP and the Swedish government.
Under the new law, the RMB takes over all functions relating to research misconduct of the so-called FFP-category that are currently handled by higher education institutions and the Expert Group. The latter will be discontinued under the new law. Subsequently, the RMB will deal exclusively with research misconduct cases in the FFP-category. It will be placed with the Swedish Research Council and be funded by state budget, operating independently from other organs within the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish government.
The Expert Group is governed by the Higher Education Ordinance and laws applicable to ONEP in relation to its task of establishment of the Expert Group, including regulations on public access. The Higher Education Ordinance defines the obligations concerning misconduct in research within higher education institutions.
Under the new law, the RMB will be governed by the new act on new procedures to promote good practice and manage misconduct in research, besides national laws on public access.
Mission(s) and tasks
The Expert Group was established as an advisory appeal body in research misconduct cases in order to harmonize rules on research misconduct as these cases, handled by research institutions on the local level, had led to too much diversity in terminology and procedures on handling research misconduct cases. Whereas the Expert Group indeed may have a harmonizing effect in handling research misconduct cases in appeal, it has two flaws. First, its scope is restricted to universities or other higher education institutions having the state as principal and are covered by the Higher Education Act. Second, these research institutions are not obliged i.e. in effect are free to address to the Expert Group.
Under the new law, the RMB aims to fullfill the need for an independent body to investigate serious research misconduct cases in the FFP-category in a uniform, impartial, consistent and reliable manner.
As of 1 January 2010, the Expert Group is established to issue a statement on cases concerning investigations of suspected misconduct in research, artistic research and development work in appeal regarding decisions of universities or other higher education institutions, having the state as principal and are covered by the Higher Education Act. It does not mediate nor gives trainings. Its members, however, may contribute to knowledge transfer by giving lectures in (inter) national symposia.
Under the new law, the RMB gives binding decisions on cases concerning investigations of suspected research misconduct in the FFP-category in research of higher education institutions (including universities), government and municipal agencies and bodies that can be equated to government or municipal agencies, and private education providers that are authorised to award higher education qualifications. Under the new law, it will be responsible for monitoring international developments and spreading knowledge concerning good scientific practice.It will not mediate nor will it give trainings.
The Expert Group consists of a Chairperson who needs to be or previously had been a permanent judge, and 4 other members with academic expertise in different fields of research with 1 ethics expert among these 4. All 5 need to have personal substitutes. All are appointed by the Minister of Education and Higher Education for three years (to a maximum period of 3 years). All have voting rights. If one of the permanent members does not have a voting right, e.g. because of a conflict of interest, then its substitute gets this voting right.
Under the new law, the RMB will be an independent agency consisting of a Chairperson who is or has been a permanent judge, along with 10 members with scientific expertise in various areas with documented experience of working on issues relating to good scientific practice.
Scope and remit
The scope of the Expert Group is restricted in that it acts as a second advisory body only: it can only give its opinion after a decision on alleged research misconduct on the local level, and only after the Rector or Vice-Chancellor of a university or other higher education institute has filed a request with the Expert Group for a statement on the decision. The Rector or Vice-Chancellor may address to the Expert Group after the individual submitting a complaint about suspiscion of misconduct or the subject of the complaint addressed to the Rector or Vice-Chancellor for disagreeing with the decision on the alleged research misconduct by the university or other higher education institute, asking for a statement of the Expert Group in appeal. The Rector or Vice-Chancellor, however, is free to decide whether he or she deems it necessary to ask for such a statement. The scope of the Expert Group is further restricted, in that it only covers universities or other other higher education institutions, having the state as principal and are covered by the Higher Education Act.
Under the new law, the RMB will be mandated to investigate and give binding decisions in research misconduct in the FFP-category. Anyone – even anonymous – can report any suspicion on research misconduct to the RMB. The latter will refer (serious) research misconduct cases outside the FFP-category and questionable research misconduct cases to the research institutions on the local level. Moreover, the RMB will also be authorised to start an investigation at its own initiative. RMB’s scope will be broadened: besides higher education institutions (including universities), also government and municipal agencies and bodies that can be equated to government or municipal agencies, and private education providers that are authorised to award higher education qualitifications will be included. Private research institutions, on the other hand, will (still) not be included based on the assumption that an obligation to report alleged research misconduct to a central government body and to provide research data, would constitute an excessive intrusion into freedom to conduct a business.
Under the Higher Education Ordinance, the Rector or Vice-Chancellor of the Executive Board within the university or other higher education institution carries the responsibility for investigating suspected cases of misconduct. Any person within or outside the university or other higher education institution, living in- or outside Sweden, can ask for a statement of the Rector or Vice-Chancellor regarding suspected research misconduct which occurs at the university or other higher education institution in question. In case of a claim, the Rector or Vice-Chancellor has to file a request for a statement with the internal (permanent or ad hoc) ethics committee, which every university or other higher education institute in principle must have in furtherance of the Higher Education Ordinance. If deemed necessary, the Rector or Vice-Chancellor can ask an independent expert for a special statement of opinion before issuing a statement. Based upon the findings of the internal ethics committee, the Vice Chancellor issues a statement on behalf of the university or other higher education institute. The Rector or Vice-Chancellor is not obliged to follow the statements of opinion of the expert or committee in taking a final decison on behalf of the university or other higher education institute. If the Expert Group handles a case, it handles the case confidential and excludes the case from public access until it completed its deliberations, but may decide under the relevant act during the process to make it public.
Under the new law, for investigations to be possible, the RMB will be able to obtain the information it requires. A legislative provision will be introduced whereby the research institutions within its scope must, upon request, provide the RMB with all assistance and all data, information and documents concerning the research in question that is needed for the investigation, as well as access to the premises used for the research. The RMB is also entitled to issue orders if data, information or documents are not provided or access or assistance is denied. It is also possible to combine an order of this kind with a conditional financial penalty. Sensitive data in the materials should be subject to secrecy. Under the new law, there are no sufficient grounds held to justify any far-reaching deviations from the fundamental principles of public access. Nonetheless, it is held possible to protect personal and financial circumstances with secrecy.
Definition of research misconduct
There is no uniform definition of research misconduct. On the local level, definitions on research misconduct differ regarding the categories of misconduct and whether intention or (gross) negligence is required. In practice, this may have led to different consequences for the accused. For the Expert Group, in judging whether there is research misconduct, the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity is mainly decisive.
Under the new law, research misconduct will be legally defined as: “serious breaches of good scientific practices in the form of fabrication, falsification or plagiarism that are committed intentionally or with gross negligence in the planning, performing or reporting of research.” A definition on research misconduct by law must clarify what is to be investigated by the RMB.
Statements and appeal
The statements of the Expert Group are non-binding. The Expert Group states on whether there is research misconduct or not and can recommend measures to be taken. Its definition can deviate from the research institution’s definition on research misconduct. The Expert Group decides on a statement by simple majority voting. The statement is sent to only the Rector or Vice-Chancellor (and to the accused researcher). The university or other higher education institution can put the Expert Group’s statement aside, which in practice (rarely) takes place. The statements of the Expert Group are not appealable as they can be put aside. If followed by the Rector or Vice-Chancellor, the final decision is non-appealable as well.
Under the new law, the RMB will state whether research has involved fabrication, falsification or plagiarism, and whether one or more researchers have committed research misconduct. It is conceivable that the RMB may, in the course of its investigations, uncover failings in the research institutions within its scope with respect to, e.g. training, supervision or the research environment. The RMB in these cases will issue a statement in connection with a decision, expressing its views on these failings which should be remedied. The RMB cannot take binding decisions on any labour law or other consequences for the researchers who have committed research misconduct, or cannot give recommendations for such consequences. This remains the responsiblity of the employer. The RMB will inform all parties involved, including the relevant research financiers, government agencies, scientific journals and others affected by the RMB’s decision. RMB’s binding decisions can be appealed to an administrative court.
Follow-up and monitoring
Follow-up and monitoring of the opinion and eventual measures suggested in the statement of the Expert Group takes place by the research institution in question that imposed these measures or sanction.
Under the new law, researchers must follow good scientific practice and the research institutions will be required to oversee this. The research institutions within RMB’s scope are obliged to report all allegations of research misconduct within their own research activities that have come to their attention to the RMB and must report back to the RMB on the measures that have been taken as a result of RMB’s decisions. The RMB must collate, analyse and evaluate information from the research institutions within its scope in an annual report.
None of the higher education institutions publish their statements on research misconduct on their websites. The Expert Group does, however, publish its statements on its webpage on the website of ONEP, showing also information in the English language on the organisation and assesment framework of the Expert Group.
Under the new law, the RMB must publish an annual report in which it collate, analyse and evaluate information on research misconduct cases from the research institutions within its scope, besides the publication on information on its own activities.
For illustrative cases in English, see: https://ki.se/en/news/the-macchiarini-case-timeline
For further information, see: www.onep.se
For questions, send an e-mail: Jorgen Sviden, Director of the Department of the Expert Group (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: May 2019