December 2, 2022

US Office of Research Integrity shackled by bureaucracy

The head of the US agency for investigating scientific misconduct has just resigned after two years of struggle with a “remarkably dysfunctional” Federal bureaucracy.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who is watching the watchdogs, asked Juvenal about the bureaucracy of Rome. Now the question is: who is doing the watchdogs’ paperwork? The head of the US agency for investigating scientific misconduct has just resigned after two years of struggle with a “remarkably dysfunctional” Federal bureaucracy.

This is another small shortcoming in the checks and balances of the scientific method. If, because of bureaucratic incompetence, rogues are slipping through nets meant to sift out fraud and misconduct, how sure can we be of scientists’ claims?

David Wright, director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) for the past two years, was scathing in his letter of resignation, which was published in ScienceInsider. He claims that he had to spend 65% of his time navigating the bureaucracy. “What I was able to do in a day or two as an academic administrator takes weeks or months in the federal government,” he wrote. His own bailiwick, the Office for Research Integrity, had to report to the Department of Health and Human Services, a “secretive, autocratic and unaccountable” organisation. He concludes, “I’m offended as an American taxpayer that the federal bureaucracy—at least the part I’ve labored in—is so profoundly dysfunctional.”

The Office of Research Integrity runs education programs and oversees misconduct investigations. Every year, it issues about a dozen findings of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism by scientists funded by the Federal Government. It was a target of harsh criticism recently from Iowa Senator Charles Grassley. He asked why the ORI had failed to recoup millions of dollars of research grants given to an AIDS researcher, Dong-Pyou Han, who faked data to demonstrate that a vaccine for HIV was effective.  

Michael Cook
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Creative commons
limitations of science
Office of Research Integrity
scientific misconduct