Japan's researchers face increased ethics oversight

TOKYO—Scientists in Japan applying for government grants will soon be getting new mandatory reading material: a manual for promoting research integrity.

The manual, to be released by the end of the year, is being developed by the country’s three major funding agencies and the Science Council of Japan, the nation’s largest organization of researchers.

"This is not a response to the STAP problem," Makoto Asashima, executive director of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), told ScienceInsider, referring to a still-unfolding scandal centered on a now-discredited method of creating stem cells that was announced in January. Speaking on the sidelines of a U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)–JSPS collaborative workshop for research integrity, Asashima said that the society, the council, the ministry of education, and the Japan Science and Technology Agency recognized a need to fill a gap in research integrity training in Japan.

During his presentation to the workshop, Asashima said that while the STAP problem and other recent high-profile cases of misconduct have gotten the headlines, the manual’s focus is on the gray zone between responsible conduct and deliberate misconduct. The manual covers issues such as the proper use of research funds, the management of notes from experiments, and the responsibilities of scientists participating in collaborations. "We're trying to move researchers toward the 'responsible conduct' end of the scale," he said.

Japan is also mulling countermeasures for deliberate misconduct. Yoichiro Matsumoto, an engineer and executive vice president of the University of Tokyo, told the workshop that he and officials at other institutions responsible for research integrity are studying the possibility of creating a national archive of data on research misconduct. Studying such cases might lead to "a better understanding of how to prevent research misconduct," he said.

Starting next fall, grant applicants will be expected to have read the manual. By the following year, individual laboratories and institutions will need to show that they are moving to implement the manual's recommendations or equivalent alternatives. Asashima, a biologist formerly at the University of Tokyo, says labs and institutions won't be required to use this particular manual, but "it provides a standard" for upgrading training in the responsible conduct of research.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health and NSF already have similar requirements. Having Japan move in a similar direction “presents an opportunity for fruitful comparison between the U.S. and Japan in thinking about cultivating cultures for academic integrity and research integrity,” Linda Layne, an NSF program director, told the workshop.