May 17, 2022

Valdez speaks to Heersink research faculty May 10, discusses NIH topics of concern

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NIH Speaker PhotoPatricia Valdez, Ph.D.Patricia Valdez, Ph.D., chief extramural research integrity officer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spoke to Heersink School of Medicine faculty and shed light on areas of focus for the NIH Tuesday, May 10.                                                                         

Valdez’s office oversees grant administration, serves as headquarters for research integrity concerns, and investigates research misconduct including plagiarism, falsification, and fabrication.

During the virtual meeting, Valdez talked about common allegations related to integrity. In the past, the most common concern was research misconduct; however, the concerns have grown to include harassment, grant fraud, faulty peer reviews, and foreign interference in today’s society. Consequences of these problems range from contacting the institution to regulatory actions.

Foreign government interference is a fairly new concern for the NIH. While it is a substantial problem, collaboration with foreign scientists and countries is key to furthering research.

“Scientific collaborations, whether domestic or international, are imperative to solving the most pressing and perplexing health challenges,” Valdez said. Transparency in declaring these interactions is essential and the likelihood that contracts for these arrangements will be reviewed. 

The NIH has specific procedures and markers to identify potential concerns. These identification markers are:

  • Anonymous or non-anonymous allegations
  • Discrepancies in NIH documentation
  • Self-reports from recipient organizations
  • Law enforcement

Misconduct concerns can have a variety of consequences. Some cases conclude in conviction, some in a guilty plea, and some in monetary settlements.

Valdez also explained the False Claims Act as it relates to research. The law imposes liability on persons and companies who defraud governmental programs. These extend to the inclusion of fraudulent data in grant submissions.

Valdez also discussed one of the key focuses of NIH is ensuring a safe and respectful work environment. According to Valdez, fostering a healthy work environment can significantly reduce the number of misconducts by avoiding them in the first place.

“We want to make sure that the work environment is free from harassment including sexual harassment, discrimination, and other forms of inappropriate conduct that can result in a hostile work environment,” she said.