Ethical Dimensions of Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems

2.1 Falsification, Fabrication, Plagiarism


2.1 Falsification, Fabrication, Plagiarism

Scientific figure holding flask with blue liquid
Figure 1.7: Person Holding Laboratory Flask
Credit: Chokniti Khongchum licensed under CC0

Basic Research Misconduct

Known as the three “cardinal sins” of research conduct, falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism (FFP) are the primary concerns in avoiding research misconduct. Any divergence from these norms undermines the integrity of research for that individual, lab, university/corporation, and the field as a whole.


Falsification is the changing or omission of research results (data) to support claims, hypotheses, other data, etc. Falsification can include the manipulation of research instrumentation, materials, or processes. Manipulation of images or representations in a manner that distorts the data or “reads too much between the lines” can also be considered falsification.


Fabrication is the construction and/or addition of data, observations, or characterizations that never occurred in the gathering of data or running of experiments. Fabrication can occur when “filling out” the rest of experiment runs, for example. Claims about results need to be made on complete data sets (as is normally assumed), where claims made based on incomplete or assumed results is a form of fabrication.


Plagiarism is, perhaps, the most common form of research misconduct. Researchers must be aware to cite all sources and take careful notes. Using or representing the work of others as your own work constitutes plagiarism, even if committed unintentionally. When reviewing privileged information, such as when reviewing grants or journal article manuscripts for peer review, researchers must recognize that what they are reading cannot be used for their own purposes because it cannot be cited until the work is published or publicly available.

“Cases of misconduct in science involving fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism breach the trust that allows scientists to build on others’ work, as well as eroding the trust that allows policymakers and others to make decisions based on scientific and objective evidence. The inability or refusal of research institutions to address such cases can undermine both the integrity of the research process and self-governance by the research community.”
Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process. Vol. 1:20, NAS, 1992.