As we continue to advance towards the information economy, scientific research becomes increasingly more lucrative as well as more competitive. This changing world of scientific research has, not surprisingly, led to an increase in the frequency of research misconduct. From the honest error to the willful fabrication, the increased frequency of research misconduct threatens to damage the research process, and its product, the scientific record.
What is surprising is that the government, as steward of federal funds, does not currently have a uniform body of policies and procedures for handling allegations of research misconduct in federally-funded research. Currently, federal agencies are attempting to draft new, uniform misconduct policies for the entire federal government. However, as the author points out in this article, there is substantial disagreement over the very definition of the term “research misconduct.”
In this article, the author explores one important aspect of the broader definitional controversy: the question of whether scienter is (or should be) the necessary mens rea for research misconduct. The author argues against a scienter requirement, instead advocating a “gross negligence” standard of culpability for the forthcoming uniform federal definition of scientific misconduct. The author concludes by suggesting a reasonable compromise between the federal interest in scientific integrity and the scientific community’s strong tradition of autonomous self-governance, by applying federal sanctions to knowing, reckless, or grossly negligent acts of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, while at the same time, not sanctioning mere “honest errors” or acts of simple negligence. To implement a gross negligence standard effectively, the author offers suggested mental state language for the new federal definition of scientific misconduct.