PDA

View Full Version : science misconduct



William L. Siler, Ph.d.
08-03-1994, 11:54 PM
I recently had the opportunity to attend the NIH Midwest Regional
Seminar at Northwestern University. Of particular interest was a
discussion focusing upon science misconduct and science fraud.
Apparently, Congress is beginning to exert a great deal of
pressure on NIH to develop guidelines for dealing with cases of
science misconduct and science fraud. I won't attempt to present
the entire discussion but I would like to share the thoughts I
presented in hopes of getting feedback from the group at large.
The discussion began with a case study in which a junior faculty
member accused an established researcher of "sloppy data
collection."

The discussion then moved into whether it was the responsibility
of the university or NIH to deal with accusations of science
fraud/misconduct. I began by asking if there was a universally
accepted operational definition of "sloppy data". The
answer given was no and that point has been brought home in court
cases won by persons accused of science misconduct who
subsequently sued. Given that answer, I pointed out that it is
highly unlikely that anyone within my university has the
expertise to evaluate my data collection procedures or is aware
of what may be considered standard practice within my area of
expertise. I am extremely apprehensive about allowing someone
not expert in my field make judgements about my procedures.
Similarly, I believe several conflict of interest issues are
raised by leaving the responsibility with the university. On the
other hand, giving NIH the responsibility to conduct such
investigations will require additional administration,
administration which would most likely suck money out of research
funds which are already difficult to obtain.

My suggestion was to allow either the university or NIH oversee
or coordinate any investigation but to leave the ultimate
investigation up to the professional organizations to which the
accused belongs. In fact, either of those bodies should be
responsible for compendensating and coordinating the
investigators. What do you think? While the thought of such
instances is uncomfortable and highly unlikely, would it be to
the advantage of ISB, ASB, CSB, etc. to formulate policies for
dealing with questions of science misconduct within our area of
expertise? It seems to me that if the professional societies
have a vested interest, it is in keeping the field pure. How
would we, as a field, distinguish between idiosyncracies in data
collection and sloppy data collection? Would standardized data
collection/analysis methods provide an adequate base for making
such a distinction?

I look forward to your comments.

Sincerely,

William L. Siler, Ph.D.

Saint Louis University
silerwl@sluvca.slu.edu