ANOTHER LOOK | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 17 | pp. 30-31
Issue Date: April 23, 2012

Another Look

National Academy Panel Revisits Influential Misconduct Report
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: Science integrity, OSTP, ethics
Long Path To New Integrity Policies

Jan. 20, 2009 In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama calls for science to be restored to its rightful place.

March 9, 2009 President Obama issues a memo to all executive departments and agencies on scientific integrity. It calls for the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) to recommend a plan within 120 days.

April 27, 2009 The President reiterates his commitment to separating science from politics in a speech at the National Academy of Sciences.

Dec. 17, 2010 OSTP Director John P. Holdren issues a memo directing each agency to create a scientific integrity policy. The memo also defines four vital components that each policy should contain.

Early August 2011 Agency integrity plans are due to OSTP for final review, but only a few are submitted by the deadline.

March 30, 2012 Each agency’s final policy is to be publicly available. Eighteen of 21 agencies meet this goal. The tardy agencies are the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Labor.

A lot has changed in the past 20 years in how research is done: Computer use is widespread, leading to immense data flows; technologies make it easier to create—and manipulate—images; and the advent of social media and other tools has created a whole new world of communication.

For these reasons, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is taking another look at its landmark 1992 report on scientific misconduct. The report, “Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process,” laid the foundation for the current federal rules on scientific integrity as well as many universities’ guidelines.

The NAS review is just starting—a final report is about a year away—but many people see the need for a new vision to help define this new era. “Science integrity needs to evolve as technology, communication, and science practices change and, in turn, our culture changes,” says Linda Gundersen, director of the Office of Science Quality & Integrity at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The committee has a specific charge, but it is still deciding how far it wants to go, says Thomas Arrison, the NAS staff member who is directing the study. One decision is whether the previous definition of scientific misconduct—falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism—needs to be changed or extended. The panel will almost certainly make recommendations on the best practices for preventing and dealing with misconduct in this new era. For example, how should lab notebooks be handled now that most are computerized and hence easy to manipulate? And how much can you tweak figures without misrepresenting the data?

Other recommendations may focus on professors or others leading research projects. “There is a strong need for university professors to make sure they are performing their mentorship role,” says James T. Kroll, head of administrative investigations for the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General. “They are not all making sure that their students understand the rules.”

Heather H. Pierce, senior director for science policy and regulatory counsel at the Association of American Medical Colleges, says the report is coming at an important time for those interested in scientific integrity because so many changes are happening at the same time. The NAS recommendations will undoubtedly be influential, she says. “It is certainly possible that this report may change the conversation.”

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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