January 2000

‘R&D Values’ addresses challenges federal scientists face

What special challenges or issues confront a researcher at a national laboratory? What should ORNL as an R&D institution stand for?

The ORNL Corporate Fellows and the Ethics Office have tackled these weighty questions in a document titled The Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Values in the Conduct of Research and Development. Presented as an “articulation of our values and commitments,” the tract’s subjects range from subjects fairly standard to the R&D community as a whole to issues quite specific to ORNL or, at least, specific to researchers working in government laboratories.

Ethics Officer Steve Stow presented the idea for such a treatise to the corporate fellows after noting that, while these sorts of guidelines were commonly understood, there wasn’t anything actually down on paper.

“I noticed that prestigious research universities had guidelines of this nature and felt that it would be appropriate for the Lab,” says Stow. “My office gets questions on authorship and peer review issues. We have procedures for dealing with allegations of scientific misconduct, but no guidance on proper research practices.”

Corporate Fellow Tom Wilbanks of the Energy Division led the group’s effort in authoring the R&D Values work. He acknowledges that a large section of it is very much like similar statements at other institutions. There are, however, “special challenges” to working at a government funded laboratory, and they are addressed in the document.

“When you are working for a sponsor or agency with a particular mission, sometimes issues or situations can arise that may amount to a choice between satisfying the customer and keeping your funding or maintaining your scientific integrity,” Wilbanks says. “Of course, a researcher’s integrity, and that of the institution’s, must always take precedence.

“It is a responsibility we bear particularly because we are a publicly funded institution, and therefore must be stewards of the public trust.”

Shared standards of R&D conduct—those similar to other institutions—discussed in the document are proper data management, publication of R&D results, equitable credit to authorship, peer review, avoiding conflict of interest and proper treatment of colleagues.

Special challenges for government-funded agencies include maintaining independence and integrity under various pressures, either political or monetary; coping with change, which includes maintaining relevance of R&D to the nation’s needs and promoting an atmosphere of scientific competition; and, again, avoidance of conflict of interest that might arise from partnership endeavors or an overemphasis on royalties.

Values in the Conduct of R&D also outlines the expectations of responsible conduct by research staff members, managers and sponsors alike.

The guidelines have been fully endorsed by the ORNL Executive Committee. “As far as we know, ORNL is the only DOE national lab to have issued such guidelines,” says Stow.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Values in the Conduct of Research and Development is currently in the process of being published in pamphlet form and will be distributed to all staff members.—B.C.

Lockheed Martin gives $55K to holiday charities
Lockheed Martin made the holidays brighter as Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation, the ORNL contractor, and Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, the Y-12 contractor, contributed $55,000 to local holiday charities. Presenting the checks at a reception for recipients were Bob Van Hook, president of Energy Systems; and ORNL Associate Director Jim Roberto.

Receiving contributions were

  • Knoxville News-Sentinel Charities, $10,000;
  • The Holiday Bureau of Anderson County, $10,000;
  • The Empty Pantry Fund, managed by the Daily Times, Blount County, $7,000;
  • Knox Area Rescue Ministries, $7,000;
  • REACH (Roane Enriches Another Child’s Holiday) of Roane County, $7,000;
  • Toys for Tots, managed by the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, $7,000; and
  • Holiday Hope for Morgan Countians, $7,000.