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CAUT Bulletin Archives

November 2009

Research Integrity Report Poses Hard Questions

[Photo: 2009 JupiterImages Corporation.]
[Photo: 2009 JupiterImages Corporation.]
The Canadian Research Integrity Committee has released its long-awaited study on research oversight in Canada. The committee, an association of 17 academic and government bodies, was formed in 2006 in response to concerns over suspect research practices and the threat they pose to human health and the reputation of the scientific community.

The CRIC report describes current Ca­nadian policy on research inte­grity and examines procedures for addressing allegations of misconduct. The document also reviews similar policy in eight comparator countries: Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States.

But while the report was not to make specific recommendations, it is structured to facilitate a wider discussion on how best to strengthen Canada’s research integrity system, says CAUT executive director James Turk.

“Among the issues the report raises is how to define research misconduct, in particular whether it should it be limited to fraud, falsification and plagiarism or should also include a wider range of questionable research practices,” said Turk, adding that he believes there should be a broad definition. “The issue isn’t simply about the moral failings of a few bad apples. Conflict of interest is being institutionalized as pressure grows on academic re­searchers to partner with industry and commercialize their work.”

Citing examples of abuses within the health sciences, Turk argues the definition of what constitutes misconduct should be tailored to capture systemic behaviour, including the practice of pharmaceutical firms misrepresenting or suppressing the results of clinical trials and attaching the names of prestigious researchers to articles they didn’t write.

In terms of research integrity policies, the report notes that Canada’s existing system does not cover the private sector, has no national standards and is absent of any oversight agency or compliance mechanism.

“Efforts to protect the integrity of research and researchers in Canada are currently based on ad hoc and inconsistent policy, practices and enforcement mechanisms,” Turk says. “The committee’s report presents an opportunity to introduce coherent national standards that apply to all research in the country.”

CAUT has sent a copy of The State of Research Integrity and Misconduct Policies in Canada to academic staff associations across the country and is soliciting feedback among its membership. Responses can be mailed, e-mailed or faxed to Paul Jones (CAUT, 2705 Queensview Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K2B 8K2;; 613-820-7244) prior to Dec. 15.