By: Amie D. Moody, Ph.D.
Maintaining the prestige of US research and innovation
In the face of ever-increasing global competition in science and technology innovations, Congress requested that the National Academies develop a way to measure the impact of research on society in efforts to effectively prioritize Federal spending. In the pre-publication of that report, now available online, the study committee repeatedly highlights three “crucial pillars of the research system:” a strong, talented workforce, adequate and dependable (emphasis added) resources and world-class basic research in all major areas (emphasis added) of science. The committee stresses the importance of understanding the larger picture of US research, in all of its complexities, rather than using one, or a few, metrics to guide federal-level funding decisions. It is impossible to predict where the next transformative innovation will come from; therefore, limiting funding to one sector in favor of others may have unintentional consequences. Furthermore, the committee suggests that using metrics like the flow of knowledge within a scientific field and international comparison of innovation will help maximize the federal budget resources. (National Research Council)
Should research fraud be criminalized?
In a “Head to Head” article published in the British Medical Journal this week, two researchers debated the question, “Should research fraud be a crime?” Dr. Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, the chair of the Center for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto argued for such action; Dr. Julian Crane, the director of the Wellington Asthma Research Group at the University of Otago Wellington in New Zealand, argued against criminalization. At the core of the debate is the fact that PNAS published a review of the 2,047 abstracts that have been retracted from PubMed since 1977. Of the retracted abstracts, 67.4% were due to scientific misconduct, which equates to roughly one in every 18,234 published abstracts being retracted because of misconduct. Dr. Bhutta argues that scientific misconduct can have large negative consequences on human health, citing the damage of Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent vaccine study. Yet, he states, there is little in place to deter such behavior other than dismissal from research positions and academic shaming. Arguing against criminalization, Dr. Crane believes that criminalizing research is a bad idea and would only erode trust. Supporting this point, he quoted philosopher Onora O’Neill, “criminalizing research fraud would not improve trust—it would undermine it…[scientifc fraud] is much better prevented by transparency.” (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News)
Congress questions CDC about recent safety lapses
This has been a rough few months for the CDC. First, scientists in Atlanta moved active anthrax from a high containment facility to a less secure one, mistakenly thinking the samples were inactivated. Then, two weeks ago, the CDC accidentally shipped flu vaccines that were contaminated with avian influenza to the USDA. Most recently, samples of smallpox, dating to the 1950s, were found on the NIH campus in Bethesda; samples of the eradicated disease are only supposed to exist at the CDC in Atlanta, and a Russian research facility. Because of this recent string of incidents, Congress convened an investigative committee to see what action Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC since 2009, was taking to address these matters. This is not the first time Congress has investigated the CDC’s safety measures, and Dr. Frieden acknowledged that he and the agency had failed to see “the pattern” of safety lapses that is now evident. While the immediate issues with contamination and safety are being addressed, the CDC has ceased operations in its bioterrorism and influenza laboratories, and stopped shipments from other CDC laboratories. (Jocelyn Kaiser, Jim Thompson)
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