Proposal offered to unify definition of misconduct

Josh Linehan

Federally funded University researchers would operate under a new definition of scientific misconduct if a proposal by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is adopted.
University officials are still unsure what effect this new definition might have on the University.
Winanne Schumi, assistant vice president of research, said that although she hadn’t yet reviewed the federal definition, she was in favor of a centralized standard policy.
“I do think it is good to have a federal policy. It is a positive move from research institutions’ point of view,” Schumi said.
The proposed federal policy defines scientific misconduct as “fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing or reviewing research results,” according to the Federal Register.
University research is currently governed by the Board of Regents academic misconduct policy, which includes the items under the proposed federal definition as well as fraud and breach of confidentiality.
All universities receiving government research grants are covered by the new proposal, designed to unify misconduct definitions from various federal agencies, including the Public Health Service and the National Science Foundation.
The proposal will differ from previous federal definitions by excluding practices that “seriously deviate” from commonly accepted scientific practices.
The new federal definition is intended to simplify by omission, leaving out sexual harassment and theft, already covered under criminal law. Except for plagiarism, disputes over authorship are also omitted.
The new proposal also emphasizes keeping potential whistle-blowers safe from colleague retaliation.
Those accused of misconduct must be presented with allegations in a timely manner, be able to refute the claims against them and have the opportunity to examine any evidence.
The proposal will not take immediate effect and is open for public comment until Dec. 13.
Ed Wink, associate vice president of research, said his office would be looking at the federal definition in the near future.
“We were just wrapping up with the NIH visit, so it’s been hectic around here. We haven’t had a chance to look at the federal document yet, but we certainly plan to,” Wink said.
The impetus for a new proposal came in 1993 when Congress appointed a Commission on Research Integrity to improve responses to allegations of misconduct.
The commission recommended all federal agencies adopt a single definition of scientific misconduct in 1995 and offered recommendations for the misconduct definition.
It took another three years to draft the policy after long-standing debates over varied definitions of misconduct in different government agencies.

Josh Linehan covers science and technology and welcomes comments to [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.