Concordat will not call for new integrity overseer

Research funders’ long-awaited “concordat” on research integrity deliberately steers clear of “heavy-handed regulation”, one of its authors has said.

April 12, 2012

The Concordat to Support Research Integrity will set out what is expected of institutions, researchers and funders in upholding research integrity. It represents the funding bodies’ preferred approach to the issue after their controversial move to stop financing the UK Research Integrity Office, an advisory body, in 2010.

A draft version of the concordat, supported by Universities UK, the Wellcome Trust, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, Research Councils UK and government departments, has been published for consultation.

It says that the prime responsibility for investigating allegations of research misconduct and punishing transgressions lies with employers, who should establish “robust, transparent and fair processes” and nominate a senior staff member to oversee research integrity.

Universities should also promulgate clear and confidential mechanisms for reporting allegations of misconduct, and nominate a person or body to act as a “confidential liaison for potential whistleblowers”.

However, the document resists calls from some quarters - including the Commons Science and Technology Committee - for the creation of a new regulatory body to oversee research integrity. And while it mirrors much of the “consensus statement” agreed at a summit held earlier this year by the British Medical Journal and the Committee on Publication Ethics, it does not adopt its call for universities to be obliged to subscribe to the UKRIO - which is still operating - and to report to it the results of misconduct inquiries.

Chris Hale, deputy director of policy at Universities UK and one of the concordat’s authors, said forcing universities to sign up to a body with no statutory standing would have been “quite a big jump”. Such “heavy-handed regulation” was unnecessary and it was a mistake to “start from the position that we are going to hell in a handcart”, he said.

James Parry, chief executive of the UKRIO, was unconcerned that his organisation was not mentioned in the concordat and agreed that the document’s endorsement by funding bodies would give it some “clout”. It would still not dissuade those bent on committing “horrible fraud”, he said, but could prevent pressured researchers from taking shortcuts.

However, it would improve research integrity only if institutions and researchers were supported to implement it and accepted it as “something appropriate and useful” rather than “more bureaucracy and micromanagement of research”.

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