Minor Misconduct


While its certainly not as sexy of a story as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s conflict of interest surrounding nutritional supplements, The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently announced that they had been told by the director of the National Institute of Health that investigators recently found 44 scientists who violated the agency’s conflict of interest rules. Nine of the cases have been deemed serious enough to be investigated for criminal wrongdoing.

In June, the prestigious British scientific journal Nature published a study suggesting that close to one-third of American scientists have engaged in “questionable practices.” The most widely engaged in misconduct was the relatively minor offense of inadequate record-keeping. But unsettlingly large numbers of scientists admitted to more serious matters like changing a study because of pressure from a funding source (15.5 percent) or overlooking other studies with weak methodology or data (12.5 percent).

It’s hard to say how serious the NIH violations are, but its good news that the NIH mostly seems concerned with the bookkeeping aspect of it, which doesn’t imply serious breaches on matters of scientific integrity. And the history here should be noted: the 44 cases stemmed from an original 81 that the committee found questionable and asked the NIH to look into. So of the original 81, only 9 warrant external investigation.

Understandably, the committee seems to be wary of giving any ammunition to foes of the NIH—the same press release that announced the findings calls for full congressional reauthorization of the Institute’s budget. It seems that the Committee members just want to be seen as vigilant watchdogs, not as hatchet men.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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