Note: The commenary linked below was written by:
C. K. Gunsalus
Director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Marcia K. McNutt
President, US National Academy of Sciences
Brian C. Martinson
Health Partners Institute
Larry R. Faulkner
President Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin
Robert M. Nerem
Institute Professor Emeritus, Georgia Institute of Technology
Building a culture of quality and integrity requires conversations across the scientific enterprise. Science is a complex ecosystem of funders, journals, academic administrators, scientific societies and researchers — the latter group including principal investigators, staff scientists, postdocs and graduate students. The interests of each group conflict as often as they overlap, and interactions tend to be stratified and constrained. Institutional presidents sit on working groups with each other but not with research-integrity officers. These officers attend conferences with each other, but not with faculty advisers and bench scientists. Journal editors meet scientists and other editors, but not institutional officers, on whom they rely for investigation when concerns about manuscripts arise.
In the United States, a fractured, inefficient, inconsistent system has built up over the past 70 years to protect research quality and integrity. Separate and sometimes overlapping mechanisms focus on distinct areas, such as oversight of trial participants and animal subjects, data management, financial transactions and declarations of interest.
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The proposed research policy board would be “a central resource to which institutional leaders and other members of the scientific enterprise could turn for assistance in creating and sustaining cultures for reliable and efficient research.” Priorities would include addressing issues related to authorship, raising the quality of peer review, educating researchers on responsible conduct, and streamlining research administration. The authors call the establishment of such a board overdue, noting that multiple National Academies reports stretching back over 25 years — including Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research and Fostering Integrity in Research — have recommended the creation of a dedicated venue to address issues related to the research enterprise. (Four co-authors of the Nature commentary served on committees that wrote the relevant reports.)
As a first step toward the creation of the research policy board, the National Academy of Sciences will hold a plenary session on the trustworthiness of science at its annual April meeting, the commentary notes. It also proposes a two-day meeting of stakeholders later this year to determine what sort of formal entity is needed, what it should do, what kind of support it would need, and under what authorization it would operate.
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