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  • Washington Highlights

    NIH Advisory Committee Provides Interim Recommendations on Addressing Sexual Harassment

    Amanda Field, Specialist, Science Policy
    Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) June 13-14 held a public meeting covering a range of topics, including sexual harassment, foreign influences on research integrity, the next generation of researchers initiative, and diversity and inclusion.

    This meeting followed the working group’s May 17 listening session for individuals adversely affected by sexual harassment [see Washington Highlights, May 17]. The NIH posted a summary of all the ACD working group updates from the meeting.

    The three co-chairs of the ACD Working Group on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment presented an interim report including four recommendations, future topics to discuss, and a plan to produce a final report by December 2019. The recommendations included:

    • Treating professional misconduct, including sexual harassment, as seriously as research misconduct;
    • Requiring all principal investigators named on NIH grant awards to attest that they have not violated and will not violate their institutional professional code of conduct when submitting NIH grant applications and progress reports;
    • Establishing mechanisms that would allow sexual harassment survivors to restore their careers and for NIH to recapture lost talent; and
    • Developing novel approaches to allow trainee and junior investigator independence from their mentors.

    The working group also listed additional topics it intends to include in its discussion of further recommendations, including improving climate and culture, modifying the NIH grants policy, researching evidence-based interventions, creating conference guidelines, and influencing institutional actions. To demonstrate transparency and accountability, the working group laid out actions resulting from reported allegations. NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and the ACD expressed their approval of the working group’s recommendations and will be pursing implementation as the working group continues its work.

    Related, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology June 20 passed by voice vote the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 (H.R. 36) [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 11]. The committee approved three amendments to the bill to clarify reporting requirements for individuals and institutions in cases of harassment.

    The Working Groups on Foreign Influences, Research Integrity, Next Generation Researchers Initiative, and Diversity gave updates to their final reports delivered to the ACD in December 2018 [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 14, 2018]. To support the next generation of researchers, the NIH awarded the greatest number of Early Stage Investigator grants in fiscal year 2018 that have ever been awarded. It also established a process to alert NIH Institute and Center directors when a successful investigator’s well-rated grant application was not funded, so that the directors can choose to prioritize funding these at-risk investigators.

    Other updates included presentations on artificial intelligence; diversity and inclusion; high-risk, high-reward programs; and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The NIH also announced its intention to start a working group on rigor and reproducibility in animal studies.

    The ACD will hold its next and final meeting of the year Dec. 12-13, 2019.