Punishment doesn't fit social sciences crime

The proposed "concordat" on research integrity will impose more burdensome regulation on social science, even though the disciplines show no evidence of misconduct problems, according to the Academy of Social Sciences.

April 26, 2012

In a strongly worded response to Universities UK's consultation on the draft Concordat to Support Research Integrity, the AcSS says that it is not willing to recognise the document in its current form because it does not accept the case for an expensive "quasi-regulatory" system.

The concordat would require universities to develop "more robust mechanisms of quality assurance", to appoint a senior figure to oversee integrity and to produce an annual statement setting out progress in strengthening integrity.

It also sets out responsibilities for funders and individual researchers.

The concordat represents funders' new approach to research integrity after their controversial decision not to renew funding for the UK Research Integrity Office, an advisory body, in 2010.

Chris Hale, deputy director of policy at Universities UK, said the draft document consciously avoided advocating "heavy-handed regulation", such as the establishment of a new integrity watchdog.

But the AcSS, which represents 700 academics and 43 learned societies, says in its response that the concordat's measures will "significantly increase" research overheads. Yet it argues that no evidence has been produced demonstrating that UK social science has an "established problem" with misconduct.

A spokesman for the AcSS said the only evidence he had seen related to a "small but definite problem" with research ethics in US bioscience. He added: "If the UK's biomedical scientists think they have a comparable problem - even without comparable evidence - then they are welcome to go ahead with whatever measures seem appropriate."

The AcSS also criticises the concordat's treatment of research integrity as "an issue of individual misconduct", rather than addressing the features of research funding and career structure that could encourage misconduct.

"There is long-standing evidence from sociologists and criminologists that addressing such issues is more effective in reducing deviance," the AcSS's consultation response says.

It says that the concordat should strengthen the role of professional bodies in overseeing research integrity, and give "more consideration" to the value of the independent perspective offered by the UK Research Integrity Office.

"Self-regulation by employing institutions is a recipe for the protection of vested interests," it says.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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