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FROM THE PRESIDENT

The Research Enterprise: Accountability and Integrity

A wave of concern and protest swept forth from the research community when it discovered a two-sentence amendment to the October 1998 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton, which requires that : "the Director of the [Office of Management and Budget, OMB] amends ... Section __.36 of OMB Circular A-110 to require Federal awarding agencies to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under the Freedom of Information Act [FOIA]." The second sentence allows a "reasonable user fee" to be charged for the release of data.

Supporters of the legislation claimed that the amendment was simply designed to hold accountable those scientists and engineers whose research was supported by federal granting agencies. Members of the scientific community, on the other hand, saw this legislation as an attack on values such as academic freedom, intellectual property rights and the integrity of research. Many of the more than 10,000 scientists, engineers, professional societies (including Sigma Xi) and others who protested against the legislation in response to a request for input from the OMB certainly saw the legislation as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine and discredit the scientific research enterprise. Despite language developed by the OMB that would restrict FOIA requests to data that had resulted in publication, Representative George E. Brown, Jr. (D-California), ranking Democrat on the House Science Committee, felt that no implementing language could sufficiently protect the integrity of the research enterprise. Before his death in July, he introduced legislation into the House of Representatives (HR 88) that would repeal the FOIA amendment to the 1998 appropriations bill. In mid-July Representative Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) and a panel of distinguished scientists urged a House Committee on Government Reform subcommittee to support HR 88. A detailed analysis of the issues involved in the present debate can be found on the Web page of the American Association of University Professors (http://www.aaup.org/govrel.htm).

Sigma Xi is a staunch proponent of the highest standards of accountability in scholarly research. In 1984 Sigma Xi published a major treatise on research ethics in its booklet Honor in Science, now in its sixth printing with more than 55,000 copies distributed. A new companion booklet, The Responsible Researcher: Paths and Pitfalls will be available in time for a conference in September, cosponsored by Sigma Xi and the Public Health Service's Office of Research Integrity and entitled "Ethical Challenges and Practical Solutions for Managers in Research." The conference will include activities related to developing a program for the Sigma Xi Forum on ethics to be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the fall of 2000.

Regardless of how the current debate is resolved—whether the OMB succeeds in writing acceptable enabling language or Rep. Brown’s bill succeeds in repealing the offensive legislation—the community of scientists and engineers now must initiate those steps necessary to provide the public with the accountability that it deserves and at the same time ensure that the integrity of the research enterprise will be maintained.

Peggie J. Hollingsworth
President, Sigma Xi


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