Town Hall Meeting on the Proposed Federal Research Misconduct Policy
November 17, 1999
I want to thank Bruce Alberts and the Academy for hosting this meeting today and Arthur Rubenstein and all of you for being here. Many of us as researchers, university administrators, and, government policy makers, we have a keen interest in making sure we have for the first time a fair and workable government-wide policy on research misconduct. This discussion of the proposed policy developed by all the agencies of the President's National Science and Technology Council in conjunction with the Office of Science and Technology Policy will help make that goal a reality. Most of the work was done under the leadership of my distinguished predecessor, Jack Gibbons, who deserves a lot of credit for helping us get to where we are today.
My remarks will be brief this morning. I will depend on Sybil Francis, who has shepherded this important project forward from the beginning, to provide much of the detail about development of this policy. But I would like to note that this discussion marks a major milestone in public policy. Nearly twenty years ago Congressman Al Gore held the first hearings in the Congress on the subject of research misconduct. Since then, the federal agencies and the research community have worked –usually together but sometimes at cross-purposes - to build the policies, institutional structures, and practices to guide us in dealing with research misconduct.
We all learned a lot during that process. The members of Congress - and the citizens they represent - sought greater accountability in all aspects of research. The research community sought greater recognition of the unique features of the scientific process that must factor into judgments about research integrity.
As we began to grapple with these issues, a number of high profile cases threatened to undermine public confidence in the research enterprise. We are all too familiar with the tendency of government, in the absence of sound guiding principles, to overreact or react inappropriately to individual cases - a tendency that can be damaging to individuals and institutions and that rarely leads to good policy. The good news is that OSTP in developing the proposed Federal research misconduct policy made every effort to avoid those pitfalls. Working with all the research agencies, OSTP conducted a fully deliberative process that took a while - quite a while - to complete, but we believe produced a good outcome.
I think most of you know that two reports that preceded this federal effort - the 1992 National Academy of Sciences study on Responsible Science and the congressionally mandated Commission on Research Integrity's report - were spawned during periods of turmoil. Both reports called on OSTP to coordinate the development of a government-wide uniform research misconduct policy. Fortunately, tempers and paranoia had cooled by the time OSTP asked the NSTC to set to work on this problem.
NSTC took up the call to develop a government-wide research misconduct policy in April 1996. We believed that a focus on protecting the integrity of the research record would serve many goals, including:
· Continued advances in science and engineering, which depend on the reliability of the research record;
· Appreciation and realization of the benefits associated with research, such as in health and national security, which depends on investor and public confidence in the process; and
· Sustained public trust, and funding, for the scientific enterprise.
We also recognized that uniformity in Federal agency policies would serve the best interests of the research community. The proposed policy has undergone extensive agency review and clearance at a number of levels. It represents the consensus among the Federal research agencies of the government that conduct research about what a research misconduct policy should look like. I think you will find the policy balanced and fair.
Before concluding my remarks, I want to thank all of you - the agencies, the university community, the journalists, the science and engineering professional societies - for helping us get to where we are today. I even want to acknowledge Congress (yes, really!). Those who experienced - and survived - the intense scrutiny, sense of outrage, and some might say rough handling by the Congress of some of the high-profile cases of alleged research misconduct might, quite reasonably, have a different perspective! But if one takes the long view, congressional interest overtime has been an important motivating force in all this.
And we have moved forward. This proposed policy bears witness to this Administration's commitment to integrating public values with our strong scientific and technological enterprise. The two are inextricably linked.
We are grateful for this forum to exchange views on the policy, and
we expect to learn from the comments and concerns you express today.
I hope you will take the opportunity to submit your formal written comments on the draft policy to Sybil Francis at OSTP before the December 13th cut-off date. Thank you.
Office of Science
and Technology Policy
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W
Washington, DC 20502