Karen, a psychology student, conducted a research project that involved the interview of a number of human participants. In compliance with the university rules on protection of human subjects in research, she assured the subjects that the contents of interview and their personal data would be used only for purposes of the research. When inputting the research data, all subjects are referred to only by code instead of their real names. But then Karen made up words which the subjects never spoke/used  in order to reach the conclusion she already had in mind.

This hypothetical case shows a potential tension between protection of the privacy of human participants and the accuracy in recording research output, which are both important principles of research integrity. This tension poses specific problems especially to research in social sciences and in some clinical biomedical fields. The research data is frequently coded and inputted with only code numbers identifying different human subjects. This leaves room for researchers to deliberately fabricate data or with poor record keeping mixup data from their true source.

See how HKU Policy on Research Integrity responds to this tension:

Section 2.4 Proper data handling provides that,

“Research data must be collected in an ethical manner, and there should be clear record on the data collection process.  Data should be kept in a secured and accessible form, preferably in more than one medium and at more than one location, and be documented and archived for a substantial period of time (at least 5 years, and preferably 10 years) to allow for verification and replication by other researchers.”

For data to be kept in an accessible form, the most primary one, including clinical or laboratory records, questionnaires, tapes of interviews and field notes should be kept for review.   A clear record of the data collection process provides reviewers a better opportunity to confirm or dismiss any allegation of misconduct.



Offices of Research Integrity, University of Pittsburgh. (2011). Guidelines for responsible conduct of research. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from http://www.provost.pitt.edu/documents/GUIDELINES%20FOR%20ETHICAL%20PRACTICES%20IN%20RESEARCH-FINALrevised2-March%202011.pdf