Renewed calls for a body to deal with allegations of scientific misconduct have been rebuffed by the Office of Science and Technology.
The move came as the Wellcome Trust said that from October 2002 it would award funding only to institutions that had published standards of good research practice and formal procedures for investigating misconduct.
Mike Dexter, the trust's head, has written to the institutions it funds to find out if they have such rules, and to ask for comments on the guidelines it has drawn up. He said that despite discussions about the need for guidelines on the conduct of research and the lack of a formal system for investigating allegations of scientific misconduct, there was little support for a national body similar to the Office for Research Integrity in the United States or the Danish committee on scientific dishonesty.
Herbert Arst, professor of microbial genetics at Imperial College, London, said guidelines were not enough. An external body cutting across all research institutions, including the private sector, was needed. "If there's no external audit, you can't prevent a whitewash," he said. But a spokesman for the OST said: "This is not something we're looking into. Scientific peer review has performed this function for many years."
The Wellcome Trust said institutions would be expected to draw up procedures and be responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct and taking disciplinary action. It added that it expected to be informed only of "serious" allegations and reserved the right to withdraw funding.