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  • Pakistani scientists launch scientific ethics drive

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[ISLAMABAD] Fears that scientific misconduct is growing in Pakistan have led researchers, social scientists and journalists to agree to set up a national network to fight the problem.

Participants at 'The Conduct of Responsible Science: Safety, Security and Ethics' — a meeting held in Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this month (9–10 June) — said that plagiarism, falsification, misreporting, denying authors credit for their work and gift authorship (in which non-authors gain credit for the work) were preventing the country from turning its indigenous science to economic benefit.

One perceived catalyst of misconduct was the introduction by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) of its Tenure Track System in 2003, leading to increased pressure to publish for academic survival.

In 2008, the council found researchers from Punjab University's Centre for High Energy Physics guilty of plagiarism, a case cited as an example of the consequences of the new pressures.

"Pakistan has been unable to harness socioeconomic benefits from scientific research," Atta-ur-Rahman, former chairman of the HEC told the meeting.

"Therefore, it is important for us to have a national policy to ensure the responsible conduct of science so that our agricultural economy can be transformed into a knowledge-driven economy."

"Responsible conduct of science is all about personal and institutional integrity," said Anwar Ali Siddiqui, a professor of biochemistry at Aga Khan University. "We need to create an environment where standards of excellence, trustworthiness and lawfulness may flourish institutionally."

Participants unanimously agreed to create a multidisciplinary national network to promote and strengthen the responsible conduct of science.

"To begin with, such a network may take the shape of an online social network, so that more and more like-minded people may join it easily," said Abid Azhar, co-director of the Dr. A. Q. Khan Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering.

"Then, it can be transformed into a national organisation with regional chapters and broad-based participation."

Ultimately it is hoped the network might investigate alleged misconduct.

A number of scientists called for religion, as the basis of the ethical impulses behind science, to be incorporated into any approach.

Mazhar Mehmood Qureshi, a senior physicist, and a member of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS), said: "At the interface of science and society, ethical issues become very important, which can't be addressed without involving religion. Otherwise, the whole exercise may lead us nowhere."

The goal is for the network to be established within six months.

The meeting was organised by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference's Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation, the International Council for the Life Sciences and the PAS.

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