Under “Action plan and status report” on the KI intranet can be found the various measures now being taken in the wake of the Macchiarini affair. The action plan covers many different areas and is designed to take care of the failings identified by KI’s internal audit office and the Heckscher report.
The basic problem
Karolinska Institutet’s basic problem in this respect is very much to do with attitudes and our university culture, in its broader sense. Far too often do we read about KI in the papers in less-than-flattering contexts. This need not be so much the case, however, if we tighten up compliance and polish our ethical compass.
KI’s leaders don’t only have to be skilled academic leaders but also good leaders and exemplars in a more general sense. Our managers must be familiar with the law and make sure to toe the line. Shortcuts and corner-cutting are unacceptable in administrative as much as scientific contexts. In research, the ends may never justify the means.
The rules and regulations in force are not discretionary. They are there to protect our people, quality and reputation. Even less are they an obstacle to independent, exploratory research. Indeed, they assure orderly processes and are therefore a sine qua non for good results in our core activities.
The Vancouver rules
A number of cases of scientific misconduct are currently under investigation.
A particularly interesting issue here is that of responsibility for scientific articles. In the non-academic world, anyone who writes an article vouches for its content with his or her signature. And as far as I understand it, it’s also that simple if you follow the Vancouver rules to the letter. The problem is that no one does this.
In my view, it was easier before: more closely delimited research, more specialised experiments and narrower theses. In today’s multidisciplinary world things are naturally much more complicated. A cluster of research fields now contribute to one and the same scientific paper and no one researcher is able to maintain an overall view of its content.
And yet it’s not unusual for articles to be signed without reservation. Of course, the rub is that if you forgo responsibility from important parts of an article, you also forgo much of the academic kudos that it can bestow.
Macchiarini has done a great deal of damage. But if he has made scientists think twice before unquestioningly putting their name to a scientific article beyond their full academic grasp, at least he would have done some good.