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NAS sizes up scientific misconduct.

"The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true."

With that quote from Albert Einstein, a 22-member panel of scientists, attorneys, research administrators, historians and philosophers released their long-awaited report on misconduct in science. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) appointed the panel in 1989 after a number of scientific misconduct cases received publicity (SN: 2/11/89, p.85).

The report addressess the scope of the problem, noting that from 1989 to 1991, U.S. government offices received more than 200 allegations of scientific misconduct. About 30 cases have been confirmed, the panel says.

Such statistics suggest actual cases of scientific misconduct are uncommon. However, the report notes that scientists may tend to underreport misconduct.

"Misconduct in science is a serious issue that requires scientists and research institutions to take explicit action to protect the integrity of research," the committee concludes.

The NAS issued a number of recommendations, including a call for a standard definition of scientific misconduct. The report notes that research institutions currently rely on an ambiguous array of standards to judge alleged misconduct.

The report defines misconduct in science as fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing or performing research, or in reporting findings. It concludes that errors in judgment, differences of opinion in the interpretation of data, and errors in analysis of data do not constitute scientific misconduct.

Questionable research practices are those that violate the traditional values of science but fall short of misconduct, the report says. Such practices include presenting speculation as fact and using inappropriate statistical methods.

Many whistle-blowers experience discrimination as a result of their actions, the panel found. The report calls for greater protection of scientist who come forward: "When necessary, serious and considered whistle-blowing is an act of courage that should be supported by the entire research community."

The primary responsibility for investigating allegations of misconduct should rest with the university or research institution, the report concludes. The NAS urges administrators to recognize the difficulty of such inquiries, especially when the accused scientist is held in high esteem.
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Title Annotation:National Academy of Sciences
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 2, 1992
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