New Resource on Scientific Research Integrity


As scientists, we’re well acquainted with the importance of protecting our research from factors that could undermine objectivity. And as the nation’s largest single funder of biomedical research, it is vitally important that the public trusts the research NIH supports.

 To this end, NIH recently published a centralized document describing our policies pertinent to scientific research integrity. While NIH has extensive policies and procedures to help ensure the highest degree of scientific integrity, this new document —  NIH Policies and Procedures for Promoting Scientific Integrity —  for the first time consolidates this information from a diverse array of documents into a unified report that’s easily accessible to anyone interested in learning more about NIH research, even those new to working with or learning about NIH.

 An NIH working group, which included members of my staff in the Office of Extramural Research, developed this resource, and I’m pleased to see the outcome of their hard work. This document not only fulfills a White House directive for a public document on scientific integrity, but it is also supports transparency and public accountability that is at the core of NIH’s mission.



  1. Scientific misconduct has recently been reported as routinely being as a result of fraud, rather than inadvertent mistakes. However, we know of multiple instances where those who use scientific misconduct to publish well are able to out-compete honest scientists. The NIH continues to renew the funding of these scientists and their seems to be no mechanism in place in review to raise awareness to reviewers and the PO of the track record of grant authors. # of retractions, corrections , etc. These can them be considered as needed.

  2. Integrity is an essential component of value system. NIH value system is not just the honesty, truthfulness and accuracy of research and presentation of data. It is also “bigger then life bosses” and, as result, common lack of vision and virtue in executive offices. It is the overly centralized NIH operational structure that kills initiative of ICs and explains the extremely low productivity of NIH-funded research. 2008 FasterCures recommendations on IRP revealed a score of he NIH administrative flaws. Amazingly, nothing has changed, and clueless IRP public officials don’t miss a chance to congratulate each other on a job well done, and still believe that tomorrow will be like yesterday but more. NIH obviously needs to work on its value system: it needs an Integrity-Restoration Act. For the sake of salvation in this difficult time NIH needs urgent organizational AND operational reform.
    The task of the NIH is to accelerate the translation of R&D to health products. It is on this task that each and every NIH IC – except, probably, NCI – failed. One problem is the rigid operational structure of NIH ICs. It does not fit the rapidly changing strategic realities as a tool for making people productive in working together to achieve goals in Academia, public and business sectors, i.e. in the outside of NIH. One can’t agree more with Dr. Francis Collins: “The time is ripe for a new paradigm”.
    1. The first problem is the lack of sufficient knowledge of the executive branch on knowledge workforce management, particularly how to make it productive. Old approached don’t work.
    2. The second major problem typical for both the NIH extramural and intramural programs is that scientists are considered costs rather than assets, and commonly treated as interchangeable liabilities. This archaic attitude has roots in the management of manufacturing work and prevents NIH from fully using this major resource in its effort to remake itself.
    3. The grant review system is largely dysfunctional in its present form. Scarpa’s “reform” in the CSR was based on unrealistic expectations because the emphasis was made on reorganization and change in scripting that was confused with action. This is a common trap: Typically when a process no longer produces results and should be abandoned or changed radically, management “reorganizes.” But by itself reorganization is no substitute for action.
    Science advisory boards and the peer review of grants and contracts should focus on overcoming the major flaw, namely the widespread belief that being “bright” is a substitute for knowing and “bright” people may adequately review almost anything. However, the feedback analysis of grant reviews by CSR shows that the main reason for poor reviewer’s performance is the result of simply not knowing enough, or the result of being contemptuous of knowledge outside a reviewer’s own specialty. This feeds intellectual arrogance that causes disabling ignorance and condemns awards to mediocre applications.
    The key to the selection of the effective science advisors and peer reviewers is intellectual integrity that is paramount because its major ingredients are competence, vision, and virtue existing in perfect balance. Above all, the quality and responsibility of advisers and reviewers for their work should be in the center of management’s concern through the implementation of anti-bias policies and rigorous and continuous feedback analysis. In appraising the performance of a reviewer or advisor, the question of how many reviews s/he can write is quite secondary to the question of how many reviews are valid and reliable.
    4. Lack of the reliable peer review and feed back analysis condemns NIH to manage for process rather than for results, making emphasis on process and input rather than people and outcomes. Not surprising that NIH still does not have policies that help the present to create the future – particularly the policies of systematic organized abandonment and systematic exploitation of success.
    5. The most worrisome is that NIH has locked itself in an archaic administrative paradigm that gives priority to managers rather than leaders. Recent appointments of NIH executives selected from its very own cohort well illustrate this point. Training and experience that NIH requires from the applicants to the leadership positions closes the door for innovation, original view and a long-range perspective. Such system is designed to maintain the status quo and does not accept the leaders who might challenge it and master the context. This explains the tendency of the NIH executives to focus on systems and structure rather than people.
    6. The Academic world shows a number of growing problems as well. First, the scientific establishment has a tendency to censor the promotion of new ideas that threaten the ruling status quo, and often abuses it for personal goals. In all segments of biomedical research we observe PR bubbles that are blown out of proportions, focused on self-promotion and based on findings that are high on hype but low on substance. In part this reflects the inability of peer review to discriminate between innovation and novelty: innovation creates new value, while novelty creates only amusement. To create new value, innovation has to be in tune with strategic realities, which are political, social, but above all – economical.
    7. While for years the funding of research in Academia remains essentially flat. There is an enormous expansion in university administrative ranks, with almost a 3-fold rise in the administrative staff-to-student ratio between 1997 and 2007 (see Ginsberg, B. (2011) Faculty fallout. The Scientist 25, 70). This greatly undermines the research, because to the administration, research is valued only in terms of the dollars it brings in. Mounting bureaucratization and commercialization of academic research is compounded by increased competition for funding and tenure, which significantly limits academic freedom and pure scientific research, the very bases for advances in knowledge. This tendency of science bureaucratization threatens to spill over to NIH through the hiring of “successful” career university administrators.

    All these critical issues for integrity and value system are crucial for the survival of NIH, but I did not see serious attention to them in the new document – NIH Policies and Procedures for Promoting Scientific Integrity.

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