An "excessively permissive" attitude by institutions tends to allow careless and sometimes even fraudulent medical research, a national Institute of Medicine committee reported Monday.
The committee, empaneled to study misconduct in biomedical research, said better research standards and systematic ways of investigating laboratory irresponsibility are needed."Although the committee believes that serious misconduct in science is rare . . . it concludes that institutions fail to detect and correct early deviant behavior primarily because of an excessively permissive research environment that tolerates careless practices," the committee report said.
Funding pressures and an overemphasis on publication of research in scientific journals also encourage what the committee called "substandard practices."
The Institute of Medicine, one of the National Institutes of Health, organized the 17-member committee in 1987 after a series of fraudulent and careless laboratory reports had come to light. The committee was charged with developing proposals to strengthen professional standards in the nation's federal and academic laboratories.
A system of peer review and replication of research findings has been a standard way to guard against science error in the past, the committee said. But it said this system has failed.
The committee noted that researchers are pressured to build up a list of publications to which they have contributed. Academic advancement and salary increases can depend upon the number of publications.
As a result, the committee said, some authors credited with reports often participated only marginally, the leaders of some laboratories put their names on all research from their labs, and the names of prominent researchers are often added to those of the true authors in an effort to assure publication.
To correct the problems, the committee made 16 recommendations. These included:
-That the NIH establish an office to promote responsible research and evaluate investigations of misconduct.
-That by 1992 all institutions conducting medical research for the NIH be required to adopt specific policies to promote ethical research practices and to investigate misconduct.
-That the NIH limit the number of publications considered in a grant application so that evaluations of a researcher's past work are based on quality, not quantity.
-Academic departments should adopt new authorship policies that will not emphasize quantity.