The NSF's policy is that research institutions should be responsible “to the greatest extent possible” for preventing and detecting misconduct in science and for dealing with any allegations of misconduct that may arise (NSF, 1991a, p. 30). The NSF expects research institutions to conduct inquiries and investigations, if warranted, into incidents of suspected or alleged misconduct. The NSF's policy uses the concept of “deferral in the first instance” in establishing its relationships with the research community. This policy recognizes both the institution's commitment to maintain integrity in research and the independence and autonomy society accords the research community. However, it also places a critical obligation on an institution that requests and accepts deferral. The institution is obliged to conduct an investigation that OIG can recognize as accurate and complete. OIG must also be able to conclude that fair and reasonable procedures in accord with due process were followed (NSF, 1991a, p. 31). NSF regulations, which share general similarities with but differ from PHS regulations for addressing allegations of misconduct in science, establish procedural requirements but rely on research institutions to establish their own policies and procedures.


The role of government agencies in handling alleged or suspected misconduct in science has been the subject of extensive examination within the academic and research community, government agencies, and the Congress. Although there is strong consensus favoring the principle that universities should bear the primary responsibility for addressing misconduct in science, there is substantive disagreement about the methods by which this responsibility should be exercised and the manner in which federal agencies should perform oversight.

Areas of Disagreement

The areas of disagreement include the following:

  • Definitions of misconduct in science. Government regulations offer general definitions of misconduct in science but do not provide extensive guidance about the scope of the definitions (e.g., defining fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism). Institutional officers, faculty, and public officials sometimes disagree about specific behaviors that constitute misconduct in science. Disagreement over definitions

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