AAAS urges US to give scientists a voice in research misconduct cases

06/17/04

WASHINGTON, DC Under new rules on research misconduct, proposed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), "scientists would have no voice," officials at AAAS, the world's largest general science society said today.

In a letter to Chris Pascal, director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of the journal Science, said scientists contribute a critical level of objectivity, balance and technical expertise to research misconduct proceedings.

"Research misconduct allegations can damage the public's trust in the scientific process and the promise that science holds to improve all our lives," Leshner said. "Responsible scientists thus have an obligation to help investigate such cases in a technically rigorous, objective and timely manner. Under the current process, scientists play an important role in hearing and assessing allegations of research misconduct, and AAAS believes that this input is imperative."

The AAAS letter was a response to proposed new research misconduct rules issued in April 2004 by the DHHS (http://ori.hhs.gov/). While AAAS generally supports the new recommendations, it considers disbanding the current appeals board in favor of a single judge for hearing and deciding all violations as imprudent. It is highly unlikely that any judge hearing the case will be sufficiently versed in the science that lies at the core of the misconduct findings.

"Eliminating the Departmental Appeals Board in favor of a single administrative law judge disenfranchises scientists from the appeals process," said Mark Frankel, director of the program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law at AAAS. "By doing so, the proposed regulations risk losing credibility within the research community. We have urged the government to require the judge to appoint an expert with no ties to the case under review in order to assist in the evaluation of the highly technical matters presented on appeal."

AAAS is uniquely positioned among scientific societies to understand the implications of dealing with technical matters in legal proceedings. Through the Court Appointed Science Experts project (CASE), AAAS identifies scientists to help federal judges understand evidence presented in court. Use of a single administrative law judge would likely function more effectively with the assistance of a scientist working as a court expert.

"In the federal court system, independent court appointed experts, who have no loyalties to either side of the dispute, are in a position to offer an opinion that is more balanced than the parties' experts. AAAS has assisted numerous federal judges with identifying qualified experts, and their use has demonstrated the added value they bring to the judicial proceedings," wrote Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer, in the letter to ORI.

The Court Appointed Scientific Experts Project (CASE) was launched in 1998 and is managed by AAAS staff. For more information on this program, please visit http://case.aaas.org .

The association has convened meetings on research misconduct and research integrity, simulated sessions with research administrators that offered insights for responding to allegations of misconduct, and educated hundreds of scientists with a series of integrity in scientific research videos (http://www.aaas.org/spp/video).

Source: Eurekalert & others

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