Further action needed to strengthen the governance of research misconduct

The Australian Academy of Science says further action is needed to strengthen the governance of Australian research following the publication of an evaluation of the performance of the Australian Research Integrity Committee (ARIC).

The evaluation by KPMG was published earlier this week after being commissioned by two of the nation’s research funding councils: the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Responding to the publication of the ARIC evaluation, the Academy’s Secretary for Science Policy, Professor Ian Chubb, said processes are important, and good changes are welcome.

“ARIC might be more efficient if the recommendations of the evaluation are adopted. Time will tell,” said Professor Chubb.

“However, the substance of the issues that we must deal with will be missed when the terms of reference of a review are so narrow that it cannot grapple with the threats to the scientific enterprise.

“This evaluation will, therefore, not advance Australia’s capacity to manage allegations of research misconduct in any of our organisations, large or small.”

The Academy notes recommendation (11) of the evaluation, which says:

ARIC Reports should make assessments to balance the importance of ensuring adherence to the Code with countervailing priorities, such as the costs for institutions and the scale of institutional breaches or deviations from defined processes.

Professor Chubb said read literally, this recommendation suggests adhering to the Code is optional.

“This evaluation itself identified that international best practice is a system that is national in scale, has processes and policies that align with national policy and an oversight mechanism.

“We do not have such a system, and even what we have is limited, officially, to organisations that receive funding from NHMRC and ARC, or some others that may volunteer.

“There is no reason to believe that research misconduct is limited to such institutions. Any institution that receives public funding to conduct research should be subject to both the Code and to the consequences of any breach,” Professor Chubb said.

In a new position statement on research integrity published earlier this month, the Academy said protecting the scientific enterprise from research misconduct is a difficult task and that although Australia’s current system attempts to be all-encompassing, there are deficiencies in several areas such as coverage, accountability and transparency.

The Academy submission noted that ARIC also has deficiencies owing primarily to the narrow scope of its remit.

The Academy will continue to engage with the sector, funding agencies and government on meaningful changes to enhance the governance of research misconduct and looks forward to deeper conversations on the matter.

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