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26 May 2006
Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone
National Academy of Sciences
500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
Dear Dr. Cicerone:
Over the last year, a handful of journal editors have been discussing a possible meeting on the topic of digital data handling practices and the potential for inappropriate manipulation and misrepresentation. In an effort to include other stakeholders, we had some discussions with staff at the Office of Research Integrity and the Council of Science Editors. We recognize, however, that the scientists are the most important stakeholders. So we were pleased to learn that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is also grappling with how best for the scientific community to address this issue. In a discussion with Ken Fulton, he advised us to share our ideas with you and to offer our cooperation and assistance.
As you know, a few recent highly publicized cases of data manipulation and misrepresentation have raised questions about the validity of the scientific record and the role of academia, authors, reviewers, and journal editors in safeguarding against such misconduct. Much of the attention and discussion thus far has centered on detecting data manipulation and enforcement of appropriate penalties after the fact. The editors of Cell, Science, Nature, and Nature Cell Biology would like to contribute in a constructive and comprehensive way to the broader discussion of the ethics of data presentation, in which equal consideration is given to implementing mechanisms to discourage such behaviors before the submission of a manuscript.
Before we learned of the Academy’s discussions on this topic, we were planning to propose a meeting that would bring together all of the relevant stakeholders—including scientists, funding agencies, journal editors, and institutional ethics and education committee representatives. The major goal for the meeting was the development of a consensus that can be adopted by funders, scientists and editors. Three potential outcomes of such a meeting would be:
the establishment of agreed-upon guidelines for best practices in digital data handling;
a plan of action for increased education and mentoring on the ethics of data presentation;