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Watchdog Highlights Need for the Data Quality Act
The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Research Integrity (ORI) noted that last year they received a record number of complaints of alleged scientific misconduct. For 2004, ORI "received 274 complaints - 50 percent higher than 2003 and the most since 1989 when..." ORI was established.

An ORI official noted that the Office's staff and budget "haven't kept pace with the allegations. The result: Only 23 cases were closed last year. Of those, eight individuals were found guilty of research misconduct. In the past 15 years, the office has confirmed about 185 cases of scientific misconduct."

An Associated Press news story discussing the ORI complaints also stated that "research suggests this is but a small fraction of all the incidents of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. In a survey published June 9 in the journal Nature, about 1.5 percent of 3,247 researchers who responded admitted to falsification or plagiarism."

The information from ORI and Nature on scientific misconduct, including in federally-funded research, highlights the importance of the Data Quality Act.

The Data Quality Act is not a substitute for an appropriately funded ORI, just as ORI is not a substitute for the Act. Instead, the Act and implementing guidelines, including OMB's Peer Review guidelines, complement other federal mechanisms for addressing purported scientific misconduct and other instances of bad data. The Act provides two specific means of helping improve the quality of information used and disseminated by federal agencies.

OMB's Pre-Dissemination Review requirements provide the first essential mechanism for protecting and improving data quality. The Pre-Dissemination Review process is designed to ensure that data is developed and screened through a rigorous process that can not only detect and weed out bad data before it is published but which can also act as a deterrent to scientific misconduct. Agency's should make public include their pre-dissemination review record as a key means of promoting transparency and discouraging misconduct.

The Request for Correction process is the Data Quality Act's second crucial mechanism for protecting the quality of federally-disseminated information. The petition process empowers all stakeholders including NGOs, industry, and even state and local governments to act as watchdogs over federal data. When it comes to how many watchdogs are needed, Winston knows the more the merrier.

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