AAAS: 'Balance Scientific Freedom and Accountability'

"A proper balance between scientific freedom and accountability" is essential to advancing science in service of society, the AAAS CEO said in response to two recent events related to scientific integrity.

While reaffirming the association's commitment to independent peer review and the transparency of the research enterprise, CEO Rush D. Holt, executive publisher of the Science family of journals noted that "excessively intrusive demands for personal or irrelevant information that go beyond appropriate levels of oversight" can negatively affect scientific discovery.

Rush Holt | AAAS/David Sharpe

Holt's statement was issued in response to two recent events: Last month, questions were raised about the financial interests of a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who had offered testimony discounting the well-documented human causes of climate change. Subsequently, a Member of Congress made what Holt described as "unnecessarily broad requests" of seven universities for all communications regarding the climate-change testimony of some other scientists.

AAAS has long required full conflict-of-interest disclosures by scientists who publish papers in the Science journals, or take part in programmatic activities such as the association's Annual Meeting. The journals, in particular, have set forth "clear and rigorous" conflict-of-interest requirements, Holt noted.

Such requirements are essential for ensuring public trust in the integrity of science and scientists, he said. At the same time, however, "politicized or ideology-based intrusions to scientific discovery can create a hostile environment for researchers, inhibiting the free exchange of scientific findings," Holt added. He called on scientists and engineers to "remain vigilant in ensuring the transparency of the scientific enterprise."

Similarly, National Academy of Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone recently issued a Statement on Scientists and Responsibility, urging "full and responsible disclosures to research institutions, and to journals by individuals." Such transparency "can help to prevent the further escalation of divisive political actions surrounding any scientific research, whether climate change, genetically engineered crops, or vaccinations against childhood diseases," Cicerone said.

[Credit for associated teaser image: Flickr/Architect of the Capitol]