Sunday, March 25, 2007

How much secrecy is needed in government funded research?

Both the current "bubble fusion" controversy AND the grant procedure at California's CIRM are raising questions about "how much" secrecy is appropriate for government funded work. One writer to IPBiz noted:

My interest in this matter is not so much the cold fusion debate as the secrecy with which Purdue conducted its misconduct investigation and the apparent, per parties involved (or not involved but who should have been involved), deviation from typical misconduct investigation protocol. These are laid out in excruciating detail at most Universities, so such detours should not be difficult to identify. If the problem were as trivial as a technicality related to not acknowledging a sponsor in a publication, I think Purdue would not have diffculty releasing this finding, which would benefit the institution and Dr. Taleyarkhan's ability to continue contributing to the scientific community.

IPBiz notes that the problem at Purdue may be the perceptions, by administrators, of required confidentiality for this type of investigation.

To switch to a different case, that of Eric Poehlman, the investigations into misconduct by Poehlman in Vermont were so "low profile" that Poehlman was able to get a job at the University of Montreal without Montreal knowing anything about the Vermont investigations. See, for example,

Univ. Montreal discusses Poehlman issue

The journal Science reports another fraud case

As a separate matter, there are many individuals who avoid discussion of scientific misconduct. This author (LBE) served on the Ethics Task Force of the American Chemical Society at the time when the fraud of Jan-Hendrik Schon was being discovered. Although Schon was a physicist (not a chemist), he had chemists as co-authors, which reality presented a great opportunity for the ACS to lay out a policy on co-author responsibility. The other members of the Task Force would not touch this topic. Ironically, the APS grasped the opportunity and did lay out standards on co-author responsibility. Along the same lines, when this author was interviewed by NHK-TV about the Schon matter, this author learned that many institutions would not comment on the Schon matter, long after the facts of the matter were firmly established. The NHK show on Schon has never been broadcast in the United States.

***Separately, a different blog (Medical Writing, Editing & Grantsmanship) had a nice reference to IPBiz:

Update: Dr. Lawrence Ebert (PhD, JD) has expanded this discussion on his own blog, IPBiz. You can also read about Eric Poehlman, who is doing jail time for his scientific misconduct, and the laxity that led to his hiring by the University of Montreal & funding by the Canadian government to the tune of $1.2M. Incredibly, U Montr was shocked - shocked - that Poehlman neglected to mention his ongoing fraud investigations when they recruited him. Fortunately, it seems his research was on the level due north.



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