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Purdue preparing new guide for ethical conduct of research
By Brian Wallheimer
The [Lafayette, Indiana] Journal & Courier

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Purdue University is updating its policy on research misconduct in an effort to clear up vague wording and comply with federal rules.

"The federal guidelines have changed since our first policy was written," said Charles Rutledge, vice president for research at Purdue. "We waited until the federal policy was fully vetted by everyone. Now it's time to change ours."

Rutledge said Purdue was waiting for funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, to review the new guidelines before Purdue made its changes.

The federal guidelines, set in 2000, define research misconduct as "fabrication, falsification or plagiarism." The former definition also listed "or other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific and academic community for proposing, conducting or reporting research."

The problem, said Peter Dunn, associate vice president for research at Purdue, is the last phrase is vague and difficult to interpret. He said it's being dropped to lessen confusion.

"It is phrased vaguely enough that it is difficult to identify the standard," Dunn said.

Dunn said the new federal guidelines also give more detail on procedures after someone is accused.

Faculty or administration oversight?

The University Senate analyzed a draft of a new policy and suggested several changes. The report says there would be too much power in the hands of an appointed research integrity officer, and the report suggests the faculty, not the administration, should have oversight into misconduct hearings.

The report recommends adding a flow chart and timeline of the process from filing an allegation to its conclusion; forming a committee on research integrity to provide faculty oversight and cooperation to an appointed research integrity officer; adding checks and balances to ensure fairness, including making an appointed research integrity officer accountable to the university senate and the vice president for research.

Dunn said the senate's recommendations are being reviewed and considered. He declined to release the draft of the new policy.

C.K. Gunsalus, University of Illinois special counsel and an expert in research ethics, said updating research misconduct proposals is important.

"If you have federal funding, you have to apply federal policy," Gunsalus said. "The federal definition and policy must be the minimum of your university's policy."

Gunsalus said Purdue's policies could be more strict than federal guidelines, but not more lenient.

Gunsalus also said many universities fall short in providing protection for whistle-blowers. She said that would be one thing to watch for in any new policy out of Purdue.

The updated policy comes only months after a high-profile second review of misconduct allegations against Rusi Taleyarkhan, Purdue nuclear engineering researcher. Rutledge and Dunn said the changes in the policy weren't related.

Taleyarkhan is accused of fraud in his claims to have achieved desktop bubble fusion, a low-cost energy source. Joe Bennett, vice president for university relations at Purdue, said the investigation is ongoing.

 

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