Academy calls for beefed up research scrutiny

The Australian Academy of Science calls for a “a robust and fair” research integrity process.

There are regular calls for a national agency to oversight research integrity and these are always louder when an especially egregious case of plagiarism, or fabrication of evidence is public enough to get a researcher sacked, or convicted.

But in general, the research establishment prefers to let institutions deal with problems quietly. And the peak public funding agencies aren’t apparently interested in getting too involved.  An October update to the NHMRC and ARC’s Australian Research Integrity Committee states it does not investigate specific breaches of institution’s integrity policies, but does review their processes.

To which the Academy responds that ARIC has “deficiencies owing primarily to the narrow scope of its remit and the status of the recommendations.” The AAS proposes a “national oversight body,” which:

  • can “conduct or commission research”
  • “collect data and publish reports that can act to showcase good research ethics and practices”
  • may oversee institution’s investigations, “to provide public confidence that such matters are being conducted properly.”
  • has the power to direct institutions to investigate a possible breach and oversight their investigations

NCIS Canberra this is not, but it is probably as much as any institution will wear.

Nicholas Fisk (DVC R at UNSW) suggests a national body could oversight inquiry terms of reference and membership of external panels, while leaving actual inquiries to institutions.

Which is still short of the Swedish model where a national agency with an investigations team conducts investigations.

Back in April, the Sheil Review of the ARC Act “made provision”  for the council’s role to “include promoting and upholding research integrity” and that arrangements with “a broader remit” could happen. But an independent replacement of ARIC is unlikely, just now. The Universities Accord, due next month is likely to take up the government’s attention and the ARC itself will have its hands full dealing with the scathing review of its management of the National Competitive



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