investigatory process, uncertainty about the legal standing of records of institutional investigations, ambiguity about the level of documentation that is sufficient to initiate or terminate inquiries or investigations, confusion about the level of evidence that is necessary to sustain findings of misconduct in science, and uncertainty about appropriate forms of disclosure of findings and sanctions. Consideration of such matters by each research institution prior to the treatment of an allegation or incident of misconduct in science would improve the process.
The panel is aware of the inherent difficulty posed by asking research institutions to investigate allegations of misconduct in science that involve their own members, especially when those members hold prominent positions of prestige and respect. Internal investigations must demonstrate a fundamental commitment to independence and objectivity to ensure their credibility and success, and may be enhanced by the participation of members from outside the affected organization. The objectivity of misconduct-in-science investigations relies heavily on the credibility of the process used to arrive at findings and recommendations. To maintain the privilege of self-regulation, research institutions must exercise vigilance and diligence in examining the conduct of their own members.
Current ad hoc efforts to foster dialogue about misconduct in science, other misconduct, and questionable research practices between research institutions and government agencies have raised many questions about appropriate roles, procedural flaws, and adequate resources in addressing these factors. There is a growing expectation that confirmed findings of misconduct in science should be reported to all individuals and institutions who might be affected.
The panel believes that it is important at this time to preserve institutional flexibility and discretion in developing and applying policies and procedures to address misconduct in science, but it is also important to clarify the basic criteria that will be used by faculty, administrative and governmental officials, and society as a whole in evaluating institutional methods for handling allegations of misconduct in science. It is necessary to include essential ele ments of fairness, objectivity, openness, and confidentiality in the investigations of alleged misconduct, and to reconcile competing interests, not only in principle but also in practice.
In considering protections for whistle-blowers in misconduct proceedings, the panel formulated three fundamental principles:
Whistle-blowers should be assured that their claims will be taken seriously and will receive full and fair consideration by responsible officials.