A Tale of Two Perspectives: Regulation Versus Self-Regulation. A Financial Reporting Approach (from Sarbanes–Oxley) for Research Ethics
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Reports of research fraud have raised concerns about research integrity similar to concerns raised about financial accounting fraud. We propose a departure from self-regulation in that researchers adopt the financial accounting approach in establishing trust through an external validation process, in addition to the reporting entities and the regulatory agencies. The general conceptual framework for reviewing financial reports, utilizes external auditors who are certified and objective in using established standards to provide an opinion on the financial reports. These standards have become both broader in scope and increasingly specific as to what information is reported and the methodologies to be employed. We believe that the financial reporting overhaul encompassed in the US Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002, which aims at preventing accounting fraud, can be applied to scientific research in 4 ways. First, Sarbanes–Oxley requires corporations to have a complete set of internal accounting controls. Research organizations should use appropriate sampling techniques and audit research projects for conformity with the initial research protocols. Second, corporations are required to have the chief financial officer certify the accuracy of their financial statements. In a similar way, each research organization should have their vice-president of research (or equivalent) certify the research integrity of their research activities. In contrast, the primary responsibility of the existing Research Integrity Officers is to handle allegations of research misconduct, an after-the-fact activity. Third, generally accepted auditing standards specify the appropriate procedures for external review of a corporation’s financial statements. For similar reasons, the research review process would also require corresponding external auditing standards. Finally, these new requirements would be implemented in stages, with the largest 14 research organizations that receive 25% of the total National Institutes of Health funding, adopting these research oversight enhancements first.
KeywordsAccounting Disclosure Financial audit Mandatory reporting Research ethics Sarbanes–Oxley Scientific misconduct Trust Publishing standards Professional autonomy
The authors would like to thank the reviewer for his/her valuable comments.
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