Communication from the CNRS Ethics Committee (COMETS) concerning the texts of the planned Multiannual Research Programming Law, made public in June 2020.
On February the 24th 2020, COMETS published a contribution to the preliminary discussions on the Multiannual Research Programming Law. In June 2020, the government presented the project and the associated documents (explanatory memorandum, annex, impact study) to the consultative bodies.
COMETS takes note of the substantial increase in the share of the State budget devoted to research by 2030 contained in the project bill.
It also takes note that the annex to the bill adheres to the preamble of the COMETS contribution of 24 February by stating “Science is one of the cornerstones of our republican model and this function gives it the greatest responsibilities: it implies paying the utmost attention to the exemplarity and impartiality of the Scientific community, as well as to the questions of scientific integrity »
However, COMETS is surprised that the impact study only examines the bill in a limited way in the light of scientific integrity and ethics. The lens effect of the current health crisis highlights risks of abuses both in practices and in the communication of research results, while the general public and policy makers are waiting for reliable results. Beyond the particular emergency context, these abuses raise questions about the functioning of French research inherited from previous laws structuring it. Thus, we note that the crisis is stimulating a profusion of reflections within the scientific community, whose richness pleads for an ambitious bill that leaves time for a broad consultation that is fully in line with the “next world”.
However, with a view to maintaining an accelerated schedule, the COMETS now reiterates its concerns and completes its recommendations expressed on 24 February 2020 arising from its previous opinions (see https://comite-ethique.cnrs.fr/en/opinions/).
A balance between recurring and contractual skills and resources is necessary to guarantee the independence of researchers, stimulate the discovery of new objects of study and promote fundamental research over the long term.
The dominance of thematic priorities in research funding has negative consequences on the diversity and creativity of scientific production.
Moreover, the planned precariousness of research personnel, affecting women and young people in particular, is not conducive either to basic research, which requires a long period of time, or to working in a serene, cooperative and productive atmosphere.
The establishment of competition as a research dynamic is conducive to the development of inappropriate behaviour, such as the falsification of results or the obscuring of data and sources. Moreover, the pressure exerted on the researcher can generate various forms of harassment. The precariousness of the staff is also not without consequences by risking to encourage such breaches of integrity and deontology. Vigilance is required to support all staff and train them in honest and responsible research.
Encouraging the recruitment and evaluation of personnel mainly according to bibliometric criteria does not guarantee the development of quality research, nor does it guarantee the hiring of “stars” according to these same criteria. The bill allows up to a quarter of recruitments as lecturer or research officer to be replaced by contractual positions of 3 to 6 years before possible tenure. However, the reduction in the number of permanent civil servant posts will amplify the lack of attractiveness of the research professions, thus threatening the breeding grounds for both public and private French research.
Incentives to direct contractual activities or via institutions, if they can help to compensate for the lack of attractiveness of the research professions and meet an economic objective, will generate a multiplication of links of interest that could expose researchers to conflicts of interest. It should be accompanied by a reinforcement of staff awareness of these risks. However, as currently drafted, the law does not guarantee that public employers will have the means to effectively monitor and advise on ethical issues.
In order to meet these new challenges, COMETS considers that the programming law, as a whole, must promote the integrity and scientific responsibility of all those involved in research.