Academia must police itself, says new federal rule

A new set of federal rules is now in effect, placing the onus for identifying, investigating and reporting allegations of scientific misconduct on universities and institutions.

"This raises the stakes on academia itself to self-regulate," said Washington, D.C.-based attorney David Bloch who works with medical manufacturers and trade groups.

In June, integrity officers from universities and institutions around the country gathered in Sacramento to learn about the new federal rules and talk about how to prevent - and catch - cheaters.

The new rules - which affect about 4,000 universities and institutions that receive federal funds for medical research - require a formal program to review research and maintain integrity. The rules define "research misconduct" as fabrication, falsification and plagiarism, excluding authorship disputes, honest errors or differences of opinion. A new six-year limit on investigating misconduct has also been added.

"Research integrity is not just sitting back and waiting for something to happen anymore," said Larry Vanderhof, chancellor of UC Davis, which has taken a lead in dealing with research integrity. "We have to be very proactive now."

Federal law already encourages whistle-blowers with substantial promises of reward money, and it outlines very clearly - with deadlines and reporting requirements - how institutions need to monitor and investigate misconduct.

The number of federal scientific misconduct cases "is likely to skyrocket" under the new law, both because of the new requirements and the financial benefits of whistle-blowing, said attorney Bloch.

"Whistle-blowers can receive a significant portion of whatever is collected by the government, potentially millions of dollars," he said. "There’s a strong incentive there."

Many universities are appointing professors or administrators to administer the new required procedures, said David Wright, a professor at Michigan State University who studies scientific misconduct.

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