Science Integrity Matters
Scientific integrity runs deep at USGS. What is it exactly, and why is it so important? Find out in this episode of CoreCast. Host Kara Capelli talks with Linda Gundersen, Director of the USGS Office of Science Quality and Integrity.
Location Taken: US
Nora Foley: My name is Nora Foley, and I’m a Research Scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. To me, scientific integrity means following the highest levels of ethical conduct, and applying those standards to all my research.
John Jones: My name is John W. Jones, I'm a Research Geographer. I think there are four primary components of scientific integrity. The first is to pose the right question. The second component is to pursue that research in as objective and methodical in manner as possible. The third component is to communicate the results of that research in an unbiased fashion in a way that best meets the needs of the intended audience. And finally, you need to appropriately acknowledge the intellectual contributions of others.
Linda Gundersen: I’m Linda Gundersen. I'm the Director of the Office of Science Quality and Integrity here at USGS. If you don’t have honesty and trust in the scientific system, you don’t have science.
Kara Capelli: Hello, and welcome to USGS CoreCast. I'm your host Kara Capelli. Today, we’re discussing scientific integrity: What it is, why it’s crucial for USGS science and science in general, and what USGS is doing to implement policies and continue to build a culture centered around high scientific integrity standards.
I spoke to Linda Gundersen. Linda is an expert on the topic of scientific integrity and Director of the USGS Office of Science Quality and Integrity. She is also the new chair of the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Integrity. When I spoke to Linda, we talked first about what scientific integrity means to her.
Linda Gundersen: One of my favorite quotes from the National Academy of Science Book on being a scientist goes like this. “Scientific enterprise is built on the foundation of trust. Meaning that all scientists trust that our colleagues are absolutely honest in their scientific observations, their analyses and their publications that they employ best practices, follow the scientific method scrupulously, and they deal with each other with honesty and respect. Progress in science is built upon the integrity of previous science.” So science integrity is not just trust among scientist, it’s a public trust. The public depends on our scientific honesty and integrity.
When we lose that trust, the integrity of science is lost. When a scientist falsifies data for instance, they can set back science for years. Because of their fault results, their fault methods, it leads scientist down a false research path possibly causing millions of dollars, and depending on the impact of the research, it can be harmful to the environment, to public health and safety, or ruinous to the economy.
Kara Capelli: Scientific integrity has always been a pillar of USGS science and the culture here among scientist. By creating a new office, the Office of Science Quality and Integrity led by Linda, the USGS is going even further to promote and ensure scientific integrity.
Linda Gundersen: Science integrity is a requirement at USGS. But you also need to inspire scientist to want to be the best and to strive for the highest quality and integrity. So for 133 years, we have this tradition. I mean, people come here because of the reputation we have for objective unbiased science and for our science excellence.
In addition, USGS has its fundamental science practices policies that cover all aspects of peer review and dissemination of our science, and that’s really critical. We’ve always promulgated strict peer review policy, scientific best practices, method development and standards. Our current policies are rooted in both in the traditional practices and then the more recent federal research misconduct policy that came out in 2000. And that included the requirement for federal agencies to have integrity policies.
So I worked on the original policies in 2000 for both USGS and the Department of Interior, and we’ve learned a lot from the policies and practices at the Department of Health and Human Services, from the universities and from scientific societies. We also utilized comprehensive information on ethics and scientific integrity that where available from national and international sources such as the World Conference on Scientific Integrity and the Center for the Study of Ethics in Illinois.
Kara Capelli: I also asked Linda about what makes an effective and meaningful scientific integrity policy.
Linda Gundersen: You know most integrity policies have a couple of critical pieces to them. One is that code of conduct that’s the ‘I do solemnly swear’. You wanted to be inspirational, and you wanted to cover the entire scientific process but also you wanted to cover the people who worked with science so you’re managers and your administrators. So it also covers how you use science and how you communicate science.
A good policy needs to provide clear definitions of misconduct and file full procedures for submitting allegations, evaluating them fairly and protecting all the parties as the process proceeds. It’s a really sensitive process. You also need to have oversight in education. You want to monitor it. You want to adjust your process. You also want to make sure that you’re educating.
The last couple of years has been this great public dialogue about science integrity. And I think it’s really made a difference in terms of the integrity policies we’re putting in place today.
Kara Capelli: Now, Linda is taking these ideas to one of the largest science associations in the world. First as a member and now as the chair of the task force that is rewriting AGU scientific integrity policies.
Linda Gundersen: They were looking for someone with significant experience in scientific integrity and my work as a chief scientist and heading my current office and then actually writing several policies that are working and working well. That’s what they were looking for.
AGU puts out some of the premier publications in geophysics in a wide variety of geosciences in the world. And they have to have strict peer review policy and have very high science integrity in order for those scientific publications to be trusted.
Kara Capelli: For more information about USGS Science Integrity Policies, visit usgs.gov/quality_integrity. And don’t forget to follow the USGS on Twitter at twitter.com/usgs or visit our other social media channels at usgs.gov/socialmedia. For USGS CoreCast, I’m Kara Capelli, and this CoreCast has been a product of the US Geological Survey Department of the Interior. Thanks for listening.