FOOTNOTES January 2000
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PUBLIC AFFAIRS UPDATE

ASA Speaks to Science Policy

The ASA has been active in advocating for sound research support and science policy throughout the year. As 1999 was drawing to a close, the Association weighed in on key issues to preserve the integrity of social and behavioral science research supported by the federal government.

  • OSTP Policy on Research Misconduct . . . ASA provided comments to the Office of Science and Technology Policy's Proposed Federal Policy on Research Misconduct to Protect the Integrity of the Research Record (Federal Register: October 14, 1999). In their letter of December 13, ASA President Joe Feagin and Executive Officer Felice J. Levine wrote in support of the work of OMB to develop a single policy framework for the definition and treatment of scientific misconduct. They indicated the importance of policy which is intended to protect the public from the dangers of falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism in all federally funded research by suggesting a standard set of definitions in which intent is key. "The policy foresees a process that separates investigation from adjudication," wrote Feagin and Levine. "It provides for a partnership between research institutions and the federal government for implementing the policy, but it makes clear that the federal government can elect not to defer to research institutions if federal agency actions are needed to protect public health and safety. The letter also endorsed the proposed protection for whistleblowers, a "high bar of proof" for misconduct, and the use of "community" standards of the discipline or field of science in assessing research misconduct.

  • NIMH Srategic Plan . . . Also in December, ASA Executive Officer Felice J. Levine submitted comments on the NIMH strategic plan. She concentrated her remarks to encourage NIMH to: (1) broaden the mission statement and objectives to promote mental health; (2) broaden the statement to promote research investigating the role of social processes and other conditions that affect the development of mental health and illness; and (3) consider new research areas that focus on social factors, minority mental health, family structure and processes, the etiology and impact of mental illness across the life course, and the social causes of violence.

  • Letter to Congress on NIMH Mission . . . With the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), ASA sent a letter in December to members of Congress strongly disagreeing with recent criticism of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in a report from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). NAMI faults NIMH for failing in "its primary mission." The letter to Congress refutes this criticism and underscores that the NIMH mission includes the conduct of research. A number of important studies that have been a part of the NIMH broad research portfolio are discussed. The statement argued that a narrow mission, as proposed by the NAMI report, would preclude important research on such topics as anxiety disorders, attention deficit, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and common forms of depression. Finally, the COSSA/ASA statement affirmed the importance of NIMH-supported research on HIV/AIDS, given that many forms of mental illness and AIDS are comorbid.