Wellcome backs research code

December 7, 2001

Mike Dexter, director of the Wellcome Trust, has called on the government to introduce universally acceptable guidelines for research and investigation of misconduct, writes Caroline Davis.

He said that the onus was on the government to make sure that all research that informs policy and uses public funds should be carried out under guidelines accepted by all academics and all research institutions.

The trust is preparing guidelines for institutions where it funds research. From October 2002, it will insist on seeing formal written procedures for research guidance and the handling of allegations of misconduct.

Such guidelines would apply to all research, not just science. Dr Dexter believed universally accepted consistent guidelines would reassure both the funders of research and the public.

The trust hoped that openness to scrutiny would discourage institutions attempting a "whitewash" and that it would prompt a culture shift from protecting reputation by secrecy to protecting reputation by openness.

The charity spent two years compiling the draft guidelines and over the summer consulted the top 19 universities it funds as well as other funding bodies. Institutions would police their own staff, but the trust would reserve the right to intervene. It said it received a very positive response, although concerns were raised about protecting whistleblowers.

The UK's research councils are believed to be carrying out their own consultation into producing similar guidelines.

The trust was spurred into action by a consensus statement from a meeting of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Peter Stonier, president of the faculty of pharmacy at the Royal College of Physicians, has produced a blueprint for a national panel for research integrity, concentrating on policing biomedical research.

The United States and Denmark have national bodies to oversee research conduct in science and Holland has appointed an independent ombudsman.

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