The U.S. research community needs to do a better job of both investigating misconduct allegations and promoting ethical conduct—or the government might act unilaterally in ways that scientists won’t like.
(From Science / By Jeffrey Mervis) — That’s the implicit message sent by a new report out today from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine entitled Fostering Integrity in Research. The report’s key recommendation is that universities and scientific societies create, operate, and fund a new, independent, nongovernmental Research Integrity Advisory Board (RIAB). The board would serve as a clearinghouse to raise awareness of the issues, as an honest broker to mediate disagreements, and as a beacon to help institutions that lack the knowledge or resources to root out bad behavior and foster good behavior.
Other entities are already doing these things, but none has research integrity as its sole focus nor covers so much territory. Federal funding agencies investigate and punish miscreants who misuse taxpayer dollars, universities train scientists as part of their mission to advance knowledge, and scientific societies and journals have adopted ethical standards for their authors and members. After reviewing that landscape, the committee concluded that all of those organizations need to step up their game.
“We don’t think the system is broken, but we think there is a lot more we as a community can do,” says Robert Nerem, professor emeritus of bioengineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and chair of the committee that wrote the report.
And Nerem doesn’t think there’s any time to waste. “If we don’t do better, Congress could step in” and act unilaterally, he warns. “And I don’t think Congress [would have] the best interests of the research enterprise at heart in moving forward. Some legislators are champions of research, but I would be leery of what would come out of Congress.”
The committee began its work in 2012 with the goal of updating a 1992 National Academies report, Responsible Science, which made a similar pitch for an advisory body. (It went unheeded.) The 1992 report was prompted by a wave of research misconduct cases that soiled science’s reputation and led to the creation of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) to investigate misconduct involving federally funded biomedical research.
But what began as a 2-year project wound up taking quite a bit longer. “The research enterprise has grown a lot in the past 25 years,” Nerem says, adding that the rise in interdisciplinary research, new technologies, concerns about reproducibility, and increased international collaboration have made research integrity a much more complex issue. The committee almost ran out of money at one point, and the exhaustive internal vetting process given every Academies report took even longer than usual.
Despite the widespread adoption of ethical standards by the scientific community, research misconduct continues to be a thorn in the side of the scientific community. ORI and its counterpart at the National Science Foundation (NSF) receive hundreds of allegations every year, which result in dozens of findings of misconduct.
Read the full story here: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/us-report-calls-research-integrity-board