Canada has launched a new policy on responsible conduct of research.
Among other changes, funding agencies will henceforth obtain consent to name researchers who commit misconduct. The previous policy, which had involved keeping names of the guilty confidential, was criticized as overly secretive in a Nature editorial in September.
The new policy applies to grants issued by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). It requires researchers funded by those agencies to agree to have the agencies disclose their personal information in case of a breach of agency policy. Their consent should strengthen the legal basis for Canadian funding agencies to name names in case of a breach despite the existence of strict privacy laws in Canada. ’We believe the introduction of consent will further strengthen Canada’s reputation for excellence and responsible conduct in research," say the presidents of the three agencies in a statement.
The policy also includes a requirement for institutions to appoint committees to investigate misconduct who are “without conflict of interest, whether real or apparent” and that include “at least one external member who has no current affiliation with the Institution.” That requirement is stronger than the corresponding US policy, which demands only that investigators have no “unresolved conflicts of interest.”
The Nature editorial calling for guilty researchers to be named was triggered by Canadian Access to Information requests by Postmedia News reporter Margaret Munro (pictured). Munro had brought to light some apparently egregious cases of misconduct involving NSERC, including one in which a researcher fluffed his resume with publications that did not exist in the literature, but she wasn’t able to uncover the names and institutions responsible. As the change of policy may not be retrospective, there is still no guarantee that NSERC will release that information.