Public Comments Sought on New Definition of Research Misconduct
After four years of consideration, OSTP and the National Science and Technology Council have drafted a single definition of research misconduct that will apply to all federally-sponsored research, along with uniform guidelines for conducting fair and timely investigations into allegations of misconduct. The proposal was published in the October 14 issue of the Federal Register. There will now be a 60-day period for public comment. At the end of this period, all feedback will be reviewed and considered before issuance of a final policy to all federal agencies that support research.
Currently, many federal departments and agencies sponsor research, but not all use the same definition of misconduct, nor follow the same procedures when misconduct allegations have been made. The new policy was developed after extensive consultation with the primary federal R&D agencies, and builds upon their current policies. It will provide coherence across all federally-funded research, regardless of performer or location: research conducted at universities, private labs, federal intramural labs, and contractor-operated labs will all operate under the same misconduct guidelines.
DEFINITION: Research misconduct, as defined in the proposal, comprises "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results." Each of these terms is then defined in more detail. It is noted that "research misconduct does not include honest error or honest differences of opinion."
PROCEDURES: According to the proposal, a finding of research misconduct requires that "there be a significant departure from accepted practices of the scientific community for maintaining the integrity of the research record; the misconduct be committed intentionally, or knowingly, or in reckless disregard of accepted practices; and the allegation be proven by a preponderance of evidence. The notice then describes "Responsibilities of Federal Agencies and Research Institutions" upon an allegation of misconduct, including phases of the investigation and what aspects are to be handled by the federal agency versus the home research institution. "Guidelines for Fair and Timely Procedures" include safeguards for informants and the subject of the allegation, objectivity and expertise, timeliness, and confidentiality. Finally, in the case of a finding of misconduct, the appropriate administrative actions are discussed.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The notice also includes several paragraphs of Supplementary Information, of which a portion is quoted here: "The proposed policy defines the scope of the Federal government's interest in the accuracy and reliability of the research record and the processes involved in its development. It consists of a definition of research misconduct and establishes basic guidelines for responding to allegations of research misconduct, including procedural safeguards. An important objective of this policy is to achieve uniformity across the Federal agencies in the definition of research misconduct they use and consistency in their processes for responding to allegations.... The proposed policy addresses behavior subject to administrative action and applies only to research misconduct as defined in the policy. It does not supersede government policies or procedures for addressing other matters, such as the unethical treatment of human research subjects or mistreatment of laboratory animals used in research, nor does it supersede criminal or civil law. It does not limit agency or institutional policies and prerogatives in addressing other forms of misconduct, including those that might occur in the course of conducting research, including the misuse of public funds."
TO READ THE ENTIRE NOTICE: The Table of Contents for the October 14, 1999 issue of the Federal Register can be found at the following web site: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a991014c.html This notice is found near the very bottom of the Table of Contents, under "Science and Technology Policy Office, Notices."
TO COMMENT: PUBLIC COMMENTS ARE REQUIRED BY DECEMBER 13. To provide your feedback, or for further information, contact Sybil Francis, OSTP, Executive Office of the President, Washington, DC 20502. Phone: 202-456-6040; Fax: 202-456-6027; Email: email@example.com
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics