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Data check NSF sends Congress a garbled message on misconduct numbers

first_img Of the agency’s 169 findings of misconduct since 2005, 82% involve plagiarism. That is consistent with the attention NSF devotes to investigating plagiarism versus fabrication and falsification. From 2005 through 2010, for example, its plagiarism caseload never dipped below 90% of the total. In fact, 2016 was the first time that the other two categories represented more than one-quarter of NSF’s portfolio.Experts in the field have long questioned why there is such a stark difference in the portfolio of the two investigative agencies, and nobody has made a convincing case for why biomedical research should be more prone to misconduct than the broad array of science funded by NSF.The shifting NSF numbers could also revive the hot-bottom issue of how much misconduct is acceptable. (No points for answering none.) The lawmakers’ reaction to Lerner’s testimony suggests they think NSF isn’t doing enough. “What are you doing to prevent these incidents of misconduct?” the chairman of the committee, Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), demanded of NSF Director France Córdova, who also testified at the 9 March hearing. “And what are the sanctions?”Córdova answered by explaining the procedures that NSF follows in investigating every allegation of misconduct and the range of sanctions, from excluding a guilty scientist from serving as a reviewer to a ban of up to 5 years on obtaining any federal grant.Smith has said the two hearings will lay the groundwork for new guidance from Congress on how NSF should operate. Lerner’s garbled message about the extent of misconduct among those seeking NSF funding could come back to haunt NSF officials if Republicans use it as a reason to tighten oversight of the agency. Bill Dickinson/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country By Jeffrey MervisMar. 24, 2017 , 3:45 PM Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Lerner’s memo contained 12 years’ worth of data from her office on allegations, investigations, and findings of research misconduct. It showed that the number of investigations her office launched last year—24—was  just one-third of the 2005 figure, and a quarter of the 2008 peak of 99 cases. Moreover, the caseload for the last 3 years was less than half the number of investigations NSF conducted in 2008–10.The memo also noted that the annual number of findings of misconduct has remained in the teens for the past decade. (Consistent with that reanalysis, Lerner had informed the committee immediately after the hearing that she had meant to say 75 rather than 175 when citing the number of findings over the past 4 years.) Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*) Democrats were furious, and moved quickly to correct the record. “It would be very hard to discern any clear trend over the last decade, let alone a significant increase,” fumed Representative Daniel Lipinski (D–IL), the top Democrat on the research subcommittee, at the start of a 21 March follow-up hearing on NSF’s research priorities.Eager to defend NSF’s handling of the problem, Lipinski then used the memo to craft a new message more favorable to the agency. “Looking just at fabrication and falsification … the average [number of findings] is 2.6 per year over 12 years and 3.2 per year over the last 5 years,” he told his colleagues, noting that he was omitting plagiarism, the third category in the federal definition. By Lipinski’s count, the latter number meant that a minuscule 0.0064% of all proposals the agency received were tainted. “Research misconduct is a very serious issue,” he acknowledged. “But I think it is important to keep these numbers in mind.”Lerner told ScienceInsider after the first hearing that her testimony about a rising number of cases referred to investigations into alleged fabrication and falsification, which she suggested are more serious offenses than plagiarism. However, the data suggest otherwise. The number of fabrication and falsification investigations has held fairly steady over the past 5 years (12, 18, 12, 20, and 15). And the number of findings of misconduct in those two categories for each year of that period sits in the low single digits (0, 3, 7, 2, and 4).Aside from the numbers themselves, Lerner may have opened up a can of worms by focusing on fabrication and falsification. The Office of Research Integrity, an entity within the Department of Health and Human Services that investigates allegations of research misconduct in biomedical science, spends the vast majority of its time on cases involving those two categories, with scant attention to plagiarism. But the opposite is true for NSF. When a senior National Science Foundation (NSF) official told the House of Representatives science committee this month about a “significant rise in the number of substantive allegations” of research misconduct, her testimony set off alarm bells.Legislators from both parties were clearly disturbed by this trend, which had led to three dozen findings of misconduct a year, and asked what the Arlington, Virginia–based NSF was doing about it. Committee Republicans unhappy with NSF’s current system of awarding grants saw her words as further proof that Congress needs to keep a closer eye on the $7.5 billion agency.Well, it turns out there is no such trend, and the overall size of the problem had been greatly exaggerated. Within days of her appearance at a 9 March hearing to discuss NSF’s business practices, NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner admitted as much in a two-page memo to committee Democrats. But her flawed testimony could rekindle a long-simmering debate over the government’s approach to research misconduct. Email Data check: NSF sends Congress a garbled message on misconduct numberslast_img read more

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