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Good practices

Agencies facing unique challenges

American psychiatrist Donald Kornfeld, emeritus professor at Columbia University in New York, published a comparative study in the journal Accountability in Research looking at how two of the USA’s top research funding agencies deal with cases of misconduct. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds research in the biomedical field, invests in four times as many projects as the National Science Foundation (NSF), which specializes in basic science, but there are 2.5 times as many misconduct investigations reported by the NSF. While 88% of NSF investigations conclude that the accused is guilty, the NIH rate is 42%. Plagiarism accounts for 83.6% of infractions punished by the NSF, compared to only 4.8% at the NIH.

According to Kornfeld, the differences are related to the different audiences served by the two agencies and their publications. NSF clients are more heterogeneous: as well as projects by renowned scientists in pioneering fields of research, the agency has a strong focus on science education, with many initiatives aimed at undergraduate students. The two agencies work in a complementary manner: NSF supports basic science and engineering research, while the NIH represents the medical field.