An article published by the American Chemical Society this week offers insight regarding the possible future direction of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity under the DHHS. Based on an interview with Interim Director, Elisabeth Handley, one of the major ideas is to add new technologies to their wheelhouse. Officially, the ORI provides oversight to misconduct investigations within U.S. research institutions, but a major challenge is that the tools available to researchers have drastically changed since many of the agency’s regulations were established – some of which date back to 2005. At the moment, ORI is particularly concerned about data stored in cloud computing databases, personal electronic equipment, and storage devices. Furthermore, the need for technological improvements is currently exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis which not only moved research remotely, but has led to many rushed publications before the chance for credibility-adding peer reviews.
Operationally, the office receives around 200 allegations of research misconduct each year, and each of its investigators take on roughly 35–40 cases. Many of these can be dismissed if they fall outside ORI’s scope, but approximately 40-70 cases are closed – meaning that there was a determination of insufficient evidence, actual misconduct, or probable misconduct but the responsibility of which is unable to be pinpointed to a specific person. Most importantly, any delays to these findings are undesirable because it allows fraudulent studies to continue or even follow-up studies to be conducted on top of faulty studies. Therefore, many in the academic community appreciate the intention to accelerate the timeline of misconduct investigations and bring the technological understanding of ORI up to the level that is already being used by researchers.