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New Chief for HHS's Research Misconduct Office


The federal office that guards against scientific misdeeds in biomedical research has a new director. David E. Wright, a historian of science at Michigan State University in East Lansing, will take the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in January.

ORI carries out misconduct policies governing research funded by the Public Health Service, which includes the National Institutes of Health. The office runs education programs and also reviews universities' investigations of research misconduct—defined as falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism. It can recommend penalties to HHS, such as barring a guilty investigator from receiving federal funding.

ORI has lacked a permanent director since September 2009, when director Chris Pascal retired after 13 years. Acting director Don Wright's (no relation) other job is HHS deputy assistant secretary for health care quality. Having a permanent director who can focus his full attention on agency "is very important," says Nicholas Steneck, a science historian at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and former consultant to ORI.

Wright, 66, now chairs MSU's department of community, agriculture, recreation, and resource studies. He served as MSU's research integrity officer from 1993-2004 and he has consulted for ORI since 2001. That led to his interest in the ORI directorship, he told ScienceInsider: "I have done it [research integrity] at the institutional level and consulted with the feds. I have a great deal of respect for the work [ORI] does."

As a consultant, Wright helped develop "boot camp" training programs for research integrity officers. Usually that's a lonely job held by one university official, Wright says. "They now feel much more of a sense of partnership." He expects to expand the boot camp idea and also support projects such as The Lab, a well-received ORI training film.

Steneck says one challenge the new director will face is "maintaining vitality"; many ORI staff members have been there since the office's early days in the 1990s. Wright says ORI's investigative division has hired "a number of younger, very impressive people" recently but the education division could use more staff. However, he says that will depend on ORI's budget.