3435 The Role of the International Council for Science in Promoting Research Integrity

Saturday, February 19, 2011: 9:30 AM
159AB (Washington Convention Center )
Carthage Smith , International Council for Science, Paris, France
The International Council for Science (ICSU), founded in 1931, has as its mission ‘to strengthen international science for the benefit of society’. ICSU’s global Membership includes 130 countries and 30 scientific Unions, representing different disciplines.  One of the founding principles of ICSU is the Principle of Universality of science, which articulates the rights of scientists to freely exchange, associate and communicate, without discrimination.  More recently, the responsibilities of scientists inherent in this principle have been the subject of debate within the ICSU community. 

It is the ‘internal’ responsibilities of scientists, ie those relating to the conduct of science, that most readily map onto considerations of research integrity.  Reaching agreement on these responsibilities across countries, cultures and disciplines is not always straightforward.  Nevertheless, discussions within ICSU have led to consensus around a small number of overarching responsibilities.  All scientists have a responsibility to ensure that they conduct their work with honesty and integrity; to ensure that methods and results are reported in an accurate, orderly, timely and open fashion.  Further to this scientists are expected to be impartial and fair in assessing both their own work and that of their colleagues; and, to be respectful and considerate, particularly where human subjects or animals are involved or where work can have an adverse effect on the environment.

Acceptance of these values leads inevitably to another important but controversial issue on which it is less easy to reach consensus – whistle-blowing.  Self surveillance or self-policing of the scientific peer community is generally accepted to be a crucial safe-guard against scientific malpractice.  It follows that all scientists have a duty to expose fraudulent information and/or misconduct and that whistle-blowing will sometimes be necessary.  But blowing the whistle can be in conflict with loyalty another important value; - when should an individual’s loyalty to science out-weigh his/her loyalty to colleagues and or employers?  And should an individual be courageous enough to stand up for science, what mechanisms can be put in place to ensure that he/she is supported rather than ostracized?

 Appropriate rules, regulations and systems are important for identifying and dealing with cases of misconduct but more important still is the promotion of an honest research culture.    Ultimately the integrity of science depends on individual choices and behaviour.  Education, discussion and open debate on the values and practices of science have a central role to play in promoting integrity and universality in science.