New Global Research Council Takes Off

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

A new group of government research funders from around the world announced today that it will try to find common ground on two big issues in its inaugural year: defining research integrity and promoting open access to scientific information. The Global Research Council (GRC), comprised of the leaders of publicly funded science agencies from about 50 nations, also released its first work product, a common set of principles that frame how funders should review and choose the most worthy research projects.

The release of the new Statement of Principles for Scientific Merit Review followed a meeting of 47 research leaders hosted by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) at its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. "I am very pleased that pretty much everyone we invited came," said NSF Director Subra Suresh, who has been looking for ways to foster international research cooperation. The 2-day Global Summit on Merit Review capped a year-long effort to develop the new statement, which highlights six "key elements necessary for a rigorous and transparent review system." They include the use of expert assessment of proposals and a transparent, impartial, and confidential review process.

"These are not necessarily all-inclusive principles," Suresh said at a press conference today, "but they are basic principles we all agreed on." Such agreement could help smooth the way for multinational research projects, he noted.

Suresh also formally announced the creation of GRC, which he said will be a "voluntary, … virtual organization" designed to foster discussion of "shared goals, aspirations, and principles, and provide a vehicle to unify science across the globe." It is not intended to be "a new bureaucracy," he emphasized, and each member agency will cover its costs for participating. GRC also will not, at least for the time being, get involved in funding international research projects, Suresh said. Instead, the goal is to create forum for "high-level discussions" of more general policy issues.

Now that it has hashed out the merit review principles, GRC will focus on developing common views on safeguarding research integrity and expanding open access, said science chiefs from Brazil and Germany, which will lead the effort. Both are "important" topics "in every laboratory in the world," said physicist Glaucius Oliva, president of Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, the nation's lead research funding agency.

GRC members have already done a lot of work on defining research integrity, noted Matthias Kleiner, head of the German Research Foundation, so it should be "easier to define what are the basic tenets." The open access issue "is more diverse," however, since it can cover everything from sharing databases to journal pricing policies. He hopes the group will come up with "concrete steps" that national governments can take over the next 5 years to "get open access to publications and data." The goal is to release consensus statements on both issues at a May 2013 summit in Berlin.

Suresh said the discussions should not only help long-established funders to fine-tune their practices, but also help developing nations by providing model practices and policies. GRC wants to ensure that "there is no disconnect between established institutions and those that are just getting started," he said. The group will also provide a forum for discussing how nations can balance "cooperation and competition" in science, Kleiner said, and consider how their funding practices contribute to both national goals and global needs.

GRC expects to hold its first regional meetings on the two new topics later this year.

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