Rid science of secrecy culture 1

April 11, 2003

The government chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, is I hope more aware of the serious way "business cash skews university science" than his remarks reported from a Royal Society meeting imply (News, THES, March 28).

Sir David must surely know that the conflict between the openness of science and the profit motive of business has led editors of leading medical journals to require authors of papers submitted to affirm:

"I had full access to all of the data in this study and I take complete responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis."

Further concern about "distortion of research outcomes, by distortion or omission of data that do not fit expected results, dishonest misinterpretation of results and publication of data known or believed to be false or misleading" is clear in the interim documentation of the English funding council's project Active Risk Management in Higher Education.

There are so many examples of the corruption of scientific integrity that the public is rightly alarmed. Its healthy scepticism is developing into an unhealthy cynicism towards all science. Sir David should be urging the government to make a firm commitment to unfettered and open publication.

Funding bodies, such as the UK research councils, would follow suit, and universities would feel safe to adopt robust protocols, without facing a disastrous loss of research funds.

The instinct for secrecy is strong in government. This is certainly true in the UK, where gagging clauses in its own research contracts are every bit as bad as those used by industry.

David Packham
Materials Research Centre
University of Bath

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