Ensuring the integrity of the research process requires that scientists and research institutions give systematic attention to the fundamental values, principles, and traditions that foster responsible research conduct. In considering factors that may affect integrity and misconduct in science, the panel formulated the following twelve recommendations to strengthen the research enterprise and to clarify the nature of the responsibilities of scientists, research institutions, and government agencies in this area.
ACTING TO DEFINE AND STRENGTHEN BASIC PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES
Individual scientists and officials of research institutions should accept formal responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the re search process. They should foster an environment, a reward system, and a training process that encourage responsible research practices.
Discussion: Scientists and research institutions need to accept formal responsibility for ensuring the integrity of the research process. Although faculty and research staff have the primary responsibility for maintaining integrity, institutional officials should retain
and accept certain explicit obligations. Institutions should strive to attain a research enterprise that emphasizes and rewards excellence in science, quality rather than quantity, openness rather than secrecy, and collegial obligations rather than opportunistic behavior in appointment, promotion, tenure, and other career decisions.
However, aggressive efforts to assure responsible research practices, if carried to an extreme, can damage the research enterprise. Balance is required. Inflexible rules or requirements can increase the time and effort necessary to conduct research, can decrease innovation, can discourage creative individuals from pursuing research careers, and can in some instances make the research process impossible.
In particular, mentors and research directors should (1) educate themselves, their students, and associates about responsible research practices; (2) examine difficult or problematic issues that provide opportunities to clarify principles, rights, interests, and obligations that may come into conflict; and (3) inform their students and associates about available institutional channels for expressing concerns regarding misconduct in science, questionable research practices, and other misconduct.
Efforts to improve the research training experience need encouragement. The research community should recognize the damage that can be done by poor mentorship practices, whether abusive or neglectful. Inappropriate practices should be identified and corrected quickly, but with regard for the privacy of the involved parties. Institutional leaders should take steps to establish a climate within the research setting that encourages research collaboration and educational training and fosters constructive ties between mentors and trainees. This climate should encourage the identification of poor mentorship practices at an early stage and establish fall-back arrangements in case some unanticipated event—such as the death of a mentor, or an instance of misconduct in science or other misconduct—disturbs the relationship. Fall-back provisions should provide necessary support, both emotional and material, to the trainee from the resources of the department or institution.
Scientists and research institutions should integrate into their curricula educational programs that foster faculty and student awareness of concerns related to the integrity of the research process.
Discussion: Educational programs on research ethics should reflect the diverse perspectives of the scientific community but should
focus on identifying fundamental principles that guide responsible research practices. Educators and scientists should suggest how these principles can help resolve ethical dilemmas associated with specific research practices; provide information about relevant laws and regulations that govern misconduct in science and other misconduct in the research environment, and discuss the historical development of good scientific practice.
Adoption of formal guidelines for the conduct of research, which can provide a valuable opportunity for faculty and research institu tions to clarify the nature of responsible research practices, should be an option, not a requirement, for research institutions.
Discussion: In principle, guidelines for the conduct of research should be framed to fit local situations, including specific research fields and protocols, and should be formulated by the scientists who conduct research, since they know the specific matters relevant to their work. Guidelines should be actively discussed by all who are affected by them and modified as experience dictates.
DEALING WITH MISCONDUCT—INSTITUTIONAL ROLES
Research institutions and government agencies should adopt a common framework of definitions for distinguishing among misconduct in science, questionable research practices, and other forms of misconduct. They should adopt a single consistent definition of misconduct in science that is based on fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. Accordingly, the panel recommends that federal agencies review their definitions of misconduct in science to remove ambiguous categories such as “other serious deviations from accepted research practices.”
Government agencies should adopt common policies and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in science. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should lead the effort to establish government-wide definitions and procedures. OSTP
should consider adopting the definition of misconduct in science proposed in Chapter 1 of this report and use this definition in formulating government-wide model policies.
Discussion: The variation among existing regulatory definitions of misconduct in science is a serious obstacle to developing effective local institutional polices for handing allegations of misconduct in science. The ambiguity of the scope of regulatory definitions provides opportunity for serious misunderstandings between individual scientists and research institutions and between institutions and government agencies.
A federal interagency committee has been established by OSTP to establish model policies and procedures for government agencies to use in handling allegations of misconduct in science. That committee plans to recommend a basic definition of misconduct in science and basic procedures for developing uniform approaches to addressing misconduct-in-science cases. However, it is not certain that this recommendation will eliminate significant differences among governmental agency definitions of misconduct in science, especially differences between those adopted by the National Science Foundation and the Public Health Service.
The model policies and procedures under consideration by OSTP provide a significant opportunity to reduce inconsistencies, uncertainties, and conflicts in current governmental procedures.
Research institutions and government research agencies should have policies and procedures that ensure appropriate and prompt responses to allegations of misconduct in science. Research insti tutions should foster effective and appropriate methods for detect ing and handling incidents of misconduct in science and should strengthen the implementation of misconduct-in-science policies and procedures that incorporate fundamental elements of due process.
Discussion: Research institutions that receive funding from the Public Health Service are already legally required to have policies and procedures to handle alleged and confirmed misconduct in science. Such policies and procedures should be extended to all public and private research conducted within these institutions and should incorporate the following essential requirements:
Clear communication to members of the research community about effective institutional channels for reporting misconduct in science without fear of retribution.
Resources and means for handling accusations and investigations with dispatch. Response times should be short within the limits of other responsibilities.
Fair and impartial treatment for all who are involved in cases. Both accused and accuser are entitled to anonymity during the early phases of misconduct-in-science investigations.
Protection of the legal rights of those involved in cases throughout the proceedings. Additional protections may be necessary for faculty members who participate as witnesses or members of investigative panels.
Provision for encouraging, through a variety of educational activities, open discussions of misconduct in science, questionable research practices, and other misconduct, so that all members of the research community know clearly what is expected of them.
Scientists and their institutions should act to discourage questionable research practices through a broad range of formal and informal methods in the research environment. They should also accept responsibility for determining which questionable research practices are serious enough to warrant institutional penalties. But the methods used by individual scientists and research institutions to address questionable research practices should be distinct from those for handling misconduct in science or other misconduct.
Research institutions should have policies and procedures to address other misconduct—such as theft, harassment, or vandalism—that may occur in the research environment. Where procedures for handling complaints about other misconduct do not exist, allegations should be examined according to the same administrative mechanisms as those designed to address misconduct in science, although the procedural pathways for responding to other misconduct and misconduct in science may differ.
Government research agencies should clarify their roles in addressing misconduct in science, other misconduct, and questionable research practices. Although government agencies have specific regulatory responsibilities in handling the categories of misconduct
in science and other misconduct, their role in addressing question able research practices should be designed to support the efforts of scientists and research institutions to discourage such practices through the processes of education and peer review.
Discussion: The role of government in fostering research integrity should be restricted to one that supports and facilitates the efforts of scientists and their institutions. Efforts to standardize research practices across the disciplines or across institutions should be avoided, since they may weaken many of the strengths and positive features associated with the diversity that fosters intellectual freedom in the research environment.
TAKING ADDITIONAL STEPS
An independent Scientific Integrity Advisory Board should be created by the scientific community and research institutions to exercise leadership in addressing ethical issues in research conduct; in framing model policies and procedures to address misconduct in science and other misconduct; to collect and analyze data on episodes of misconduct in the research environment; to provide periodic assessments of the adequacy of public and private systems that have been developed to handle misconduct-in-science cases; and to facilitate the exchange of information about and experience with policies and procedures governing the handling of allegations of misconduct in science.
Discussion and Details
The new private, not-for-profit organization recommended by the panel would not address specific cases of alleged misconduct in science, nor would it accredit procedures adopted by particular institutions. The purpose of the organization—called the Scientific Integrity Advisory Board (SIAB)—would be to provide an information resource and advice for performers and sponsors of research. SIAB would also increase public awareness of how the scientific research enterprise works and highlight areas of consensus and disagreement.
The Scientific Integrity Advisory Board would provide resources to accomplish the following:
Address and frame ethical issues arising in the conduct of research. Through consultations with research scientists and other concerned individuals and institutions, SIAB could identify issues associated with data handling, authorship, and training and mentorship, as well as conflicts between research faculty and institutional officials.
Formulate model policies and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in science consistent with the standards of due process and confidentiality that should govern the handling of complaints. In fulfilling its charge, SIAB would comment on selected features of misconduct-in-science policies and procedures adopted by research institutions and, upon request, provide a confidential evaluation of proposed policies to the subject institution. SIAB could also monitor the activities of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Public Health Service, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies to review and comment publicly on agency policies and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct in science.
Provide advisory opinions and guidance to institutional officials regarding points of difficulty or uncertainty that might arise in implementing policies and procedures for handling misconduct in science. Examples of checkpoints to be addressed include the manner in which an individual accused of misconduct should be notified about the nature of the allegation; the status and protection of witnesses and supporting evidence; formulation of the charge to panels examining allegations of misconduct; criteria to be considered in appointing members of an investigating panel; notification of research sponsors, potential employers, and other individuals who might be affected by the outcome of an investigation of alleged misconduct; and the legal status of documents and individuals associated with misconduct inquiries and investigations.
Develop a set of case studies illustrating problem areas and inadequate safeguards in handling complaints involving misconduct in science or other misconduct in the research environment.
Provide guidance to institutions about appropriate actions to be taken in responding to allegations of misconduct in science or other misconduct.
Act as a clearinghouse for literature and records involving incidents of misconduct in science. This information could be derived from media accounts, court proceedings, government documents that are subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and investigative reports that would be provided voluntarily by research institutions. SIAB could prepare a series of white papers or reports to summarize this information.
Organization and Structure
The panel believes that SIAB should be an independent board composed of practicing scientists, research administrators, individuals who have reported and handled incidents of misconduct, former government officials, and public figures who are not involved in the scientific enterprise. The board of SIAB should include individuals who are knowledgeable about one or more of the various scientific disciplines and should also be constructed to assure that the experiences of diverse institutions are taken into account in SIAB activities.
The governance structure should assure objectivity and independence, the critical ingredients for SIAB's success. Although it is important that SIAB maintain its credibility as an independent organization, it may be necessary to establish SIAB within an existing entity to provide institutional stability and to facilitate its interaction with a broad network of public and private officials. A suitable host organization should be considered to enable SIAB to develop the details of a charter, operating plan, and budget and to receive start-up funding. SIAB might or might not become part of the host organization once it began operation.
The Scientific Integrity Advisory Board could operate in the same manner as the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, founded in 1988 by the Carnegie Corporation of New York as a nongovernmental organization to assess the process by which the government incorporates scientific and technical knowledge into policy and decision making. 1 The commission includes former government officials, eminent scientists, and private sector leaders as well as an advisory council. It organizes studies, issues interim reports, makes final recommendations, and evaluates the impact of its work.
A possible host for SIAB is the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), which has a congressional charter. The elected membership of NAPA includes many distinguished scientists and former public officials with significant public service experience. Other organizations that have experience in handling medical or other professional malpractice cases may also be potential host organizations.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) can play an important role in facilitating the creation of SIAB, although it should not be viewed as a potential host. The NAS can provide a neutral forum to review and evaluate the ultimate purposes of and potential sponsors for SIAB. But the NAS does not have the resources or experience that would be necessary to provide the types of operational and advisory services that should be an integral part of SIAB's structure.
The host organization should be one that can ensure SIAB's standing and expertise while at the same time providing necessary independence from the research community that it would serve. This last criterion should specifically exclude as possible hosts professional societies that represent colleges and universities or the academic research community. SIAB's information services would be available to participating research universities and colleges, as well as to non-profit hospitals and research laboratories. Private industry and government laboratories could be part of its audience as well, to the extent that their interests converged with those of academic research institutions. Initial funding might be provided by private foundations and interested federal agencies; operational funds should eventually come from diverse sources, including research institutions that subscribe to SIAB's information services or participate in SIAB-sponsored events.
The panel suggests that SIAB begin operation with an executive director, one full-time professional staff member, and one full-time support staff member. Additional staff members might be needed in the course of SIAB's providing active services and programs to research institutions and the public.
The panel believes that SIAB has the potential to improve significantly both the performance of the scientific community in handling instances of misconduct and also the environment for sustaining integrity in research. The panel strongly wishes to avoid creating another layer of bureaucracy and, accordingly, suggests that SIAB be authorized for an initial 5-year period only. It should automatically cease to exist unless an independent evaluation informs the directors of SIAB that continuation of its efforts is desired.
The proposal to establish SIAB deserves the support of research institutions, sponsoring federal agencies, and Congress. The research institutions should welcome the assistance of SIAB in establishing “best practice ” policies and procedures. SIAB would not replace or interfere with the principal responsibility of research institutions to deal with specific cases of alleged scientific misconduct.
Agencies that sponsor research should welcome SIAB as a new and independent mechanism to ensure the continued integrity of the U.S. scientific research enterprise. These agencies should recognize
the need to inform scientists whose research they sponsor as fully as possible of their procedures, the results of their investigations, and the nature of sanctions that are imposed.
Congress should view SIAB as a concrete step taken by the scientific community to establish a new and objective means to respond to concerns about the integrity of federally sponsored research. SIAB offers a mechanism that would foster informed judgments about how well both research performers and sponsors are progressing in ensuring the integrity of the research process.
Finally, the activities of SIAB could ensure that appropriate policies and procedures were being followed and thus could contribute to public confidence in the integrity of science and in the principles of self-governance according to which the scientific research enterprise operates.
The important role that individual scientists can play in disclosing incidents of misconduct in science should be acknowledged. Individuals who, in good conscience, report suspected misconduct in science deserve support and protection. Their efforts, as well as the efforts of those who participate in misconduct proceedings, can be invaluable in preserving the integrity of the research process. When necessary, serious and considered whistle-blowing is an act of courage that should be supported by the entire research community.
Discussion: All scientists have a responsibility to report suspected misconduct in science to appropriate authorities as part of their professional obligations. Just as it is essential to have procedural protections for individuals accused of misconduct in science, so also is it essential to protect individuals who report misconduct as well as those who participate in fact finding and adjudication to resolve allegations of misconduct. When a prolonged investigation is expected, research managers may suggest a temporary reassignment of both the subject of the investigation and the complainant during the time of the inquiry and investigation to mitigate possible tensions. Research institutions and, in some cases, scientific societies may also offer to provide professional recommendations for persons who have been instrumental in disclosing misconduct if the proceedings prove time consuming. But these supportive efforts should not be a replacement for the professional and personal support that is necessary from individual members of the scientific community. In particular,
when serious breaches of professional standards and practices have occurred, it is important that senior scientists speak out publicly to validate and explain the legitimacy of the complaints.
Scientific societies and scientific journals should continue to provide and expand resources and forums to foster responsible research practices and to address misconduct in science and questionable research practices.
1. For a discussion of the commission's origins, see Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government (1991).