From the Deputy Director for Intramural Research
There Is No Substitute for Credibility in Science
BY MICHAEL GOTTESMAN, DDIR
“When you lose your credibility, you lose everything.”
—the late Robert Chanock, former chief of NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases
At the foundation of everything that scientists do is the absolute need for the highest integrity in conducting, reporting, and evaluating research activities. At a practical level, this means that every scientist should be his or her own severest critic and not be satisfied with anything less than an honest and complete appraisal of the quality and value of his/her own work.
Every scientist should also be committed to the fair and truthful analysis of the work of others and the appropriate stewardship of critical scientific resources such as animals, human subjects, funds, and research equipment and facilities. The term “responsible conduct of research” has been used to describe this foundation of research integrity, and the NIH leadership is committed to training all of our scientific and support staff in the principles underlying this concept.
To this end, the NIH scientific directors have recently endorsed a new program of training and discourse on research integrity that is aimed at our trainees but also engages established scientists at all levels at the NIH. The program will add new training activities to our existing computer-based orientation training and the annually held sessions on case studies in research ethics. The goal is to create a “buzz” about the interesting and complex ethical quandaries that every scientist deals with almost daily, to encourage ongoing discussions so that each scientist will be comfortable making difficult decisions during their career, and to provide information about resources to help guide appropriate action. Most of the training will consist of interactive experiences and will be initiated soon after trainees arrive at the NIH. (Incidentally, all NIH-supported trainees are already required to receive instruction in the responsible conduct of research.)
The intent is to provide approximately eight hours of introductory material for all trainees at the NIH during their years here: a six-hour core research-integrity program and at least two hours of additional activities.
The six-hour core program will consist of the already mentioned orientation computer-based training course (one hour) and the annual case discussions (one hour) and will be augmented with 1) a two-hour institute- or center-based discussion led by our training directors, 2) a series of four short videos on reproducibility in science accompanied by discussion at the lab or branch level, and 3) orientation sessions with the lab or branch chiefs to discuss expectations for record-keeping, authorship, collaboration, and replication of results.
For the additional two hours of activities, trainees will be able to choose from coursework in “ethical writing”; information about how to avoid and/or recognize research misconduct; criteria for authorship; either in-person attendance or viewing of archived videos of the workshop series on “Reproducibility of Data Collection and Analysis” (http://wals.od.nih.gov/reproducibility); and one or more of the specialized courses in clinical research. As they become available, the choices will be posted on the Office of Intramural Training and Education Web site (https://www.training.nih.gov) or listed in the Office of Intramural Research Sourcebook (http://oir.nih.gov).
I am especially enthusiastic about the “Reproducibility of Data Collection and Analysis” workshops that Paul Liu and I have organized; we have had one already on specialized techniques in cell biology (“Modern Technologies in Cell Biology: Potentials and Pitfalls,” which you can view at http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?18749), and a second one on structural biology (“Modern Technologies in Structural Biology: Potentials and Pitfalls,” which was also videocast) took place on March 13, 2015.
We are beginning to plan for a third session on genomics and biostatistics that will take place in late spring and for a fourth on medical imaging scheduled for the fall. These workshops include presentations at the NIH by world experts on the power of and problems with techniques that are widely used, but sometimes poorly understood by some practitioners and many readers of the scientific literature as well as discussions by top journal editors of how to recognize and avoid the pitfalls of these technologies.
You will be hearing much more about these research-integrity activities at the NIH. I hope you will “catch the wave” and feel the exhilaration of joining a “culture of integrity.” My goal is to make research integrity a subject of water cooler, cafeteria, break room, and hallway discussions that is integrated into every aspect of our work at NIH.