The scientific community responds

In retrospect, it seems clear that scientific associations and universities could have moved more aggressively to re-articulate and publicise the basic norms of honesty and integrity that guide scientists' work, and to declare that unethical behaviour would not be tolerated or ignored. Instead, there was a tendency to blame the messengers or critics, and to perceive any questioning as an assault on the autonomy of government-funded scientific research. Unapologetic resistance to congressional suggestions of reform persisted for several years, especially in the biomedical research community. A New England Journal of Medicine (June 1988) editorial argued against establishment of any federal ethics oversight system and asserted that Congress was simply "responding to false impressions" and should therefore back off: "The biomedical-research community is willing and able to police itself and is taking steps to do so more effectively... Let us hope that Congress will give this process time to work."32 The following year, the House Committee on Science and Technology heard more testimony from representatives of NIH, National Science Foundation, and various universities; they also questioned journal editors about the peer review process and the integrity of the published literature.33 Chairman Robert A Roe, an ardent supporter of the federal research effort, stated bluntly that "scientific misconduct is a general problem that threatens the health of the scientific enterprise at all levels", and he appealed to scientists to act: "There will be no greater force for maintaining the integrity of scientific research than the science community itself... The federal government cannot fund science at ever greater levels and then turn its back on the problem of scientific misconduct."33

The efforts of some institutions and professional associations to develop guidelines or ethics codes were notable, such as those of the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Association of American Universities, as well as the work of groups like the American Psychological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to promote integrity discussions through workshops, conferences, and other projects.34,35 However, too many universities and organisations continued with business as usual. Scientific journals refused to withdraw tainted articles even after fraud was proven, fearful of being sued if even one co-author objected (see, for example, the fate of the co-authored articles of Robert Slutsky).36-38 After Stephen E Breuning was indicted and pleaded guilty, more than fifty of his articles remained in dispute for months - Breuning refusing to discuss the matter publicly and the journals refusing to retract unless all authors agreed.39 The implications of these and similar episodes also reverberated within scientific publishing, reshaping journal review practices that had once relied solely on trust.7 Scientific publishers and editors began to redefine their standards and expectations for how authors, reviewers, and editors should behave, and to articulate more formally the limits of their responsibilities, both legal and moral.

By the 1990s, political attention had turned away from the malefactors (perhaps because fewer of the accused were well-known scientists) and toward the quality of misconduct investigations.40,41 NIH management practices were scrutinised and the ethics office eventually reorganised at congressional request.42 Meanwhile, scientists continued to debate the limits of what should or should not be labelled as "misconduct",43,44 and John Dingell expressed hope that the research community would eventually begin to "police itself".40

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