Background

The National Committee for the Evaluation of Dishonesty in Health Research in Norway (The National Committee) was established in September 1994 by the Medicine and Health Division of The Research Council of Norway. This was preceded by a report from a working group appointed by the Research Council in December 1992.1 This report drew extensively on a Danish account2 and recommended the founding of a permanent national body. The idea of a national committee on scientific dishonesty met some resistance in Norway in the early 1990s. Among the most critical was the Norwegian Researchers' Association, expressing concern for the legal protection of researchers accused of misconduct. A number of individuals, including some prominent scientists, also questioned the need for such a committee. "Most researchers will realise that it is unethical and silly to publish results that are not founded on honest and precise research. Very soon experiments will be checked or repeated in other laboratories. If one finds that they are wrong and based upon dishonesty, the career of the person in question will be restrained by itself without anonymous hints and without any witch-hunt."3

On the other hand, investigations indicated that dishonest conditions did exist in Norwegian health research. In a questionnaire distributed to 119 project leaders, nearly 40% responded that fraud in health care was a problem. More than every fourth respondent said that he or she was aware of concrete instances of misconduct, and 18% claimed that they themselves had been exposed to misconduct.4 In another questionnaire, 22% out of 219 researchers reported that they were aware of serious violations of research-related ethical rules; 3% knew of instances involving the fabrication or falsification of results in their immediate research environment, while 10% believed that plagiarism or the theft of results had occurred, and 9% had themselves contributed to one or more of the conditions defined as scientific misconduct.5

The National Committee was given two main goals: to prevent scientific dishonesty, and to ensure that reported alleged incidents of scientific dishonesty in the health sciences are investigated. The statutes included a wide concept of dishonesty defined as "all serious deviations from accepted ethical research in proposing, performing and reporting research." This has later been specified as "serious, intentional or grossly negligent violations of accepted ethical research in proposing, performing and reporting research." According to its statutes, the National Committee investigates cases upon the agreement and on behalf of the employer of the accused person. It reports the findings to the relevant institution and the involved parties, and leaves any sanctions to the employer. Anonymous complaints are, in principle, rejected and there is no formal appeal mechanism. The National Committee includes representatives from several healthcare professions: physicians, a dentist, a pharmacist, a psychologist, as well as a judge.

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