One of the functions of higher education is research, and often this involves using people as research subjects. One of the least known functions on campuses is a usually small office that polices the rights of research subjects. At the University of Nevada, Reno, that office is headed by Nancy Moody.
What does this office do?
Our office is called Research Integrity Office, and we are the compliance office for the university on human subject research. So the research has to be an activity that engages or intervenes with human subjects. The more modern phrase now, we call them participants. The participants would be in the study because they’re interacting with the researcher or their data is being reviewed by the researcher. Another component of the office is conflicts of interest at the university. We have to regulate and have disclosures from all full-time and part-time faculty and administrative positions, that they do not have a financial interest that interferes with their function here at the university, or they are [not] engaged in an activity that has a time commitment that interferes with their function here at the university. … The other [component] is called Research Integrity. Research Integrity is actually a federal office. … If there’s plagiarism, misconduct, false data in a research that’s funded by the federal government, that agency will go forth with an investigation, stop the funding if they find that it is in fact happening. Our office would probably discern that that activity is going on first, and then would start the investigation and whatever information we found would be shared with the federal office. Practically speaking, it doesn’t come up, but Research Integrity is [also] education—especially with the post-Tuskegee—of the graduate schools and faculty to remind them about what is misconduct, what is plagiarism. You would think those are already known, but it’s particularly enforced and makes sure—particularly with trainees—that you can’t take another person’s concept of publication and use it as your own. Data has to be justified and give evidence that that’s the value collected, even if there’s a negative result.
Did I understand you to say that you’ve never had a case of research integrity?
That’s correct. I think researchers are special people. They do appreciate that it’s a privilege, you know, to have someone volunteer. … I think there is this heart of the community at the university, that they respect it, that they want someone to treat them as they would want to be treated.
How did this function come about?
America at some time after World War II—’50s, ‘60s—became more focused about our rights, a patient’s rights in the hospital. It wasn’t just what the doctor said but what a patient could say. And about the same time there were some bad things that happened in America, like the syphilis study in Tuskegee. [Several hundred impoverished African-American sharecroppers were told they were being treated free for “bad blood” at the Tuskegee Institute. Actually, the U.S. Public Health Service was studying the progression of untreated syphilis and allowing the men to go untreated to see what would happen.] … So we had Sen. Ted Kennedy with congressional hearings and interviewing and investigating ethical research that was funded by the government, but people were not being treated respectfully. There was not a consent to engage in research. And sometimes it was all manipulative, that they really didn’t have a choice. At the same time the media was getting ahold of it, and there were starting to be articles written across the nation. One of the rock stars in research is Henry Beecher. In 1966 he wrote an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about 50 studies that were funded by the government that were unethical in their conduct.