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GAO to Study Potential Federal Interference in Science

According the Washington Post, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will undertake a study of federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies and potential federal interference in the scientific process at the request of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Nelson, the Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, made the request in a letter dated September 25, 2017. Citing concerns stemming from reports of possible interference in the scientific process at the Environmental Protection Agency, changes to agencies’ public information related to climate change, and the cancellation of a study that might be damaging to the fossil fuel industry, Nelson asked the GAO to assess whether “the administration has violated scientific integrity policies by suppressing federally funded science, interfering with research grant activities, interfering in typical scientific processes, or restricting the freedom of federal scientists to communicate findings with the public.” While GAO agreed to Nelson’s request, it does not expect to begin work on the study for about four months, due to limited resources. The American Institute of Physics has published a more in-depth look at some of the context surrounding Nelson’s request.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 31), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

National Academies Releases New Research Integrity Report

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released the Committee on Responsible Science’s report, Fostering Integrity in Research, on April 11. The report assesses the state of research integrity, including trends, challenges, and educational efforts, updating the 1992 Academies report, Responsible Science. The 1992 report proposed the current definition of research misconduct, defined as the “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism” of research. The new report supports retaining that definition, but also calls for the recognition of detrimental research practices (DRPs). DRPs are “questionable research practices, such as the misleading use of statistics that falls short of falsification and failure to retain sufficient research data.”

The report contains 11 recommendations for improving research integrity, including the creation of an independent Research Integrity Advisory Board (RIAB). At the report’s release, Robert Nerem, the Committee’s Chair and Professor of Bioengineering and Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the RIAB would allow for a proactive approach to research integrity across all disciplines and stakeholders. The report also recommends that research integrity issues be viewed as part of a complex system, an area of research Nerem said is directly the purview of the social and behavioral sciences. The report calls for public and private funding for research aimed at this topic. Other recommendations include better whistleblower protections and the improvement of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) programs.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s spring intern, Laila Rosenthal of American University.

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Posted in Issue 8 (April 18), Update, Volume 36 (2017)

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