Commentary: Legacy of the Commission on Research Integrity
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20 years ago, the Report of the Commission on Research Integrity (also known as the Ryan Commission after its chair) was submitted to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and to House and Senate Committees. As directed in enabling legislation, the Commission had provided recommendations on a new definition of research misconduct, oversight of scientific practices, and development of a regulation to protect whistleblowers. Reflecting the ethos of the time, the Commission recommended that institutions receiving Public Health Service research funding should provide oversight of all but the most egregious misconduct. The suggested definition of research misconduct was organized around misappropriation, interference and misrepresentation, which would have addressed collaborative/authorship disputes and sabotage in scientific laboratories, both of which remain unaddressed in current policy. The Commission also recommended the Whistleblower Bill of Rights and Responsibilities which would have authorized remedies for whistleblowers who experienced retaliation and sanctions against retaliators. Response from the scientific community was highly critical, and none of the Commission’s recommendations was accepted. No new body has examined issues within the Commission’s charge, there has been no significant Congressional or public pressure to do so, institutions have not been able to sustain standards that would have avoided current concerns about bias and irreproducibility in research, and there is still no entity in science capable of addressing issues assigned to the Commission and other urgent issues.
KeywordsResearch misconduct Research ethics Whistleblowers Research regulation
Thanks to Tom Devine, a member of the Commission, for advice and for sharing materials from its public hearings.
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