'Universal standards' for research integrity may have unintended consequences

Feb 19, 2011

The global scientific community is capable of policing its own behavior and should resist creation of a central oversight body to enforce 'universal standards' that may have unintended consequences, a renowned physicist and director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin said Saturday.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science Without Borders meeting in Washington, D.C., Raymond L Orbach, Ph.D., singled out several elements contained in the "Singapore Statement of Research Integrity" approved last July at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity.

"While it is appropriate for and researchers to examine the governance of international collaborations in science, the Singapore Statement conveys a 'top down' approach that holds strong potential for unintended consequences," Orbach said.

For example, the Singapore Statement calls on researchers 'to report to the appropriate authorities any suspected research misconduct … and other irresponsible research practices that undermine the trustworthiness of research, such as carelessness, improperly listing authors, failing to report conflicting data, or the use of misleading analytical methods.' "Just exactly who are the 'appropriate authorities' to whom one should report?" Orbach asked in his remarks at Saturday's AAAS meeting.

"The thought of some central body with oversight responsibilities over 'carelessness' or 'use of misleading analytical methods' is frightening," he added. "The lack of precision in defining these 'irresponsible research practices' also could lead to the mischievous invasion of personal rights and responsibilities."

Orbach also objected to the notion that researchers have an ethical obligation 'to weigh social benefits against risks inherent in their work.'

"Scientific research should be free to follow scientific instincts, and not be obligated to weigh potential findings against someone's concept of 'social benefits,' " Orbach said.

"There is a good argument for stating the significance of research to a prospective funding agency, but this should be in the context of the relevant research program," Orbach continued. "In the broader context, who is to judge 'social benefit?' "

"The potential for abuse seems significant."

In the end, the scientific community is quite capable of spotting and dealing with fraudulent behavior within its own ranks, Orbach said.

"The integrity of our work is the best judge of our behavior."

The theme for this year's AAAS meeting – Science Without Borders – is particularly apt, as nations form relationships that increasingly blur traditional 'borders' and risk becoming entangled in ethical issues, Orbach concluded.

"While the issue of research integrity is vitally important, and should be addressed on a global scale, the edicts issued by oversight bodies may produce unfortunate and far-reaching consequences that could ultimately negate the very purpose the standards are intended to support."

Explore further: Sniffing out a partner at a London pheromone party

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A new code of conduct for researchers

Jul 21, 2010

A new European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity will be presented by the European Science Foundation at the World Conference on Research Integrity. The code addresses good practice and bad conduct in science, offering ...

Ethical evaluations of nanotechnology

Jan 27, 2009

Recent action in Congress to reauthorize the U.S. federal nanotechnology research program offers the chance to address the social and ethical issues concerning the emerging scientific field, experts say.

MSU to create genomic clearinghouse for biofuel crops

Aug 16, 2008

Michigan State University scientists, armed with a half-million-dollar federal grant, are creating an easily accessible, Web-based genomic database of information on crops that can be used to make ethanol.

Scientists resolve to crack down on fraud

Dec 10, 2008

Public confidence in the honesty of scientists is being harmed by a small minority of researchers who behave badly, a conference heard last week. European research organisations agreed to work more closely to tackle the problem ...

Recommended for you

How to win a Tour de France sprint

Jul 22, 2014

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It ...

User comments : 18

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ironjustice
5 / 5 (1) Feb 19, 2011
Quote: In the end, the scientific community is quite capable of spotting and dealing with fraudulent behavior within its own ranks, Orbach said
Answer: The old saying about the fox guarding the henhouse comes to mind.
Vendicar_Decarian
2.5 / 5 (8) Feb 19, 2011
These scientists do nothing but spend their million dollar pay packets on wine and cheese, producing nothing but worthless gibberish squiggeled on worthless paper.

It is time to defund these worthless vermin. They are destroying our nation.

We need to return to our Republican heritage.
Mesafina
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 19, 2011
@Vendicar: What is someone who hates scientists doing on a science new site?
semmsterr
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2011
Why do I get the impression that most Republicans ignorant and repressive? sorta like the salem witch hunters...
jjoensuu
3 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2011
The old saying about the fox guarding the henhouse comes to mind.


yea...in this case the fox is saying that it is capable of guarding the henhouse on its own.

What they seem to fail to realize is that this issue would not even be considered unless there has been issues with the scientific integrity. So no point in claiming they are capable of handling them when the issues prove otherwise.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2011
Why do I get the impression that most Republicans ignorant and repressive? sorta like the salem witch hunters...

I agree with Vedicar that scientists should earn their way in the market place and not be funded by taxes.

"The thought of some central body with oversight responsibilities over 'carelessness' or 'use of misleading analytical methods' is frightening,"

This is how the global warming scam has been perpetuated.

A better solution has been proposed elsewhere and involves the use of the internet and paid reviewers.
frajo
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2011
@Vendicar: What is someone who hates scientists doing on a science new site?
You would have to read all of Vendicar_Decarian's comments (in other threads) to understand his sarcasm. He is defending science against people like ryggesogn2 by ridiculizing them.
frajo
5 / 5 (2) Feb 20, 2011
"Scientific research should be free to follow scientific instincts, and not be obligated to weigh potential findings against someone's concept of 'social benefits,' " Orbach said.
A most dangerous statement.
It could be used to do experiments on humans without their free consent. It could even be understood as a green light for governments to start or continue torturing.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2011
I agree with Vedicar that scientists should earn their way in the market place and not be funded by taxes.
Less than 2 cents of your total income tax burden goes into general research.
BlankVellum
1 / 5 (1) Feb 20, 2011
@ryggesogn2

Global warming scam? Perhaps you could provide some credible sources to back this ridiculous assertion up, rather than relying on unsubstantiated BS?

I think Orbach has a point. The scientific community is more than capable of policing its own, without the need for an independent monitoring body.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2011
Perhaps you could provide some credible sources to back this ridiculous assertion up, rather than relying on unsubstantiated BS?

There were some interesting emails released a few months ago along with a broken hockey stick and politicians who are more interested in selling their carbon credits than offering credible alternatives, if their fantasies were true.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2011
I agree with Vedicar that scientists should earn their way in the market place and not be funded by taxes.
Less than 2 cents of your total income tax burden goes into general research.

What did we get for $ 23,508,440,000.00?
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2011
I agree with Vedicar that scientists should earn their way in the market place and not be funded by taxes.
Less than 2 cents of your total income tax burden goes into general research.

What did we get for $ 23,508,440,000.00?

Bombs. Lots of bombs.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Feb 20, 2011
I agree with Vedicar that scientists should earn their way in the market place and not be funded by taxes.
Less than 2 cents of your total income tax burden goes into general research.

What did we get for $ 23,508,440,000.00?

Bombs. Lots of bombs.

Not much research involved with bombs. $23 billion is 2% of income tax revenues according to the IRS.
BlankVellum
4 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2011
@ryggesogn2

Ah, you mean 'climategate'. Interesting that every single independent investigation into it found no wrong doing by the scientists involved. Mann's hockey stick chart has been independently reproduced by many other climatologists using many other temperature proxies. Nearly a dozen model-based and proxy-based reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere mean temperature by different groups all suggest that late 20th century warmth is anomalous in a long-term (multi-century to millennial) context.

Any other long since debunked nonsense you'd like to regurgitate here?
BlankVellum
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2011
@ryggesogn2

politicians who are more interested in selling their carbon credits than offering credible alternatives, if their fantasies were true.


Politicians are not climate scientists, so they have nothing to do with the scientific debate.
denijane
not rated yet Feb 24, 2011
I completely agree with Dr.Orbach. It's absurd to run to some mystic appropriate authorities every time you THINK someone misbehaved. On what basis would you think such things? Because you conduct the same experiment and your data is better than the others? Because you don't believe the results of your colleagues? Or simply because you want their grant. The potential for abuse is simply beyond limits.
The only thing that really needs oversight is conflict of interests among scientists who work as experts for governments or agencies and in the same time get paid from companies and corporation. Only this. Everything else will do much more bad than good.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2011
@ryggesogn2

politicians who are more interested in selling their carbon credits than offering credible alternatives, if their fantasies were true.


Politicians are not climate scientists, so they have nothing to do with the scientific debate.

The do when the scientists advocate for govt actions to save the planet and when the scientists demand more money for research.