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In the Societies: Spring 2015 Professional Ethics Report

AAAS Releases Statement on Scientific Transparency and Responsibility

On March 31, 2015, AAAS issued a statement on Scientific Transparency, Disclosure, and Responsibility. The CEO of AAAS, Rush Holt, commented on the necessity of scientific integrity and the commitment of AAAS to ensuring high standards of research responsibility and publication transparency.

The statement was released in response to several recent incidents in the scientific community concerning scientific transparency, especially the responsibility to disclose conflicts of interest. A researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics testified in Congress on the anthropogenic impact on global climate change, but did not address any financial interests that may have affected his statement. Additionally, further questions were raised about a Member of Congress’ extensive demands for all climate change-related statements and communications of scientists from seven universities.

Holt emphasized the dedication of AAAS and its journals to the disclosure of conflicts of interests as part of its commitment to scientific responsibility and transparency. These requirements have been set for the Science family of journals, as well as numerous scientific journals worldwide. Scientists associated with AAAS and its activities are also subject to similar requirements for transparency.

However, Holt noted, inquires that “go beyond the appropriate levels of oversight” [1] can be detrimental to the research process and place researchers at risk. Efforts to encroach upon scientific findings and evidence-based intellectual discussions inhibit scholarly development and the scientific process. Furthermore, several incidents have occurred, in a wide variety of fields, in which scientists’ personal information was used in attempts to question their work and professional integrity.

“Balance between scientific freedom and accountability” [1] is crucial for transparency and the progress of science. Above all, the “responsible conduct and use of science” [1] must be the foundation for all scientific research and its dissemination.


National Academy of Sciences Issues Statement on Responsible Disclosure

Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), released a statement on Scientists and Responsible Disclosure on March 6, 2015, noting that science, in its application to economic and societal concerns, can prove to be especially controversial.

Like CEO Rush Holt in the AAAS Statement, Cicerone describes several incidents in which the disclosure of financial interests and monetary support for research studies was brought into question. In these cases, policymakers demanded a greater examination of the methods and results of scientific research on climate change, as well as the potential objectives of scientists who performed the work. 

Cicerone stressed that scientists should disclose all financial interests and sources of support to maintain scientific transparency and ensure professional responsibility. This is already required of authors submitting papers to numerous journals, including the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). Furthermore, he notes, the costs of non-disclosure can become greater for authors and institutions as requests expand to include all documentation, from e-mails to research paper drafts.

The University of Virginia was recently forced to respond to such demands – the university disclosed information pertaining to “meaningful requests” [1], but did not release all of the unpublished research data and paper drafts. NAS collaborated on an amicus brief in support of the University of Virginia’s case and its choice for responsible disclosure of scientific methods and data.

Responsible scientific debate is necessary to have progress in science and combat “further escalation of divisive political actions.” [1] Research institutions, journals, and scientists must work together to protect scientific integrity by ensuring the full disclosure of relevant information to the public.