Changes to the laws of the Romanian government's National Ethics Council, created in 2004 to control misconduct and plagiarism in scientific research (Nature 485, 289; 2012), have been hailed as a boost to the country's research reforms. But preventable pitfalls threaten the council's prospects for success.
The council's 11 members have impeccable credentials and have issued bold pronouncements. However, the council has only advisory status and no legal powers. Rather than seeking cross-party consensus on membership, the education minister retains the power to appoint council members, who are therefore vulnerable to accusations of political bias.
The council's powers are further restricted because it has no access to anti-plagiarism software or to comprehensive databases. Members must judge the cases brought to them, some of which could be politically motivated and might affect public perception of the council.
As you point out, the government's new anti-plagiarism legislation rules that any academic found guilty of misconduct will lose his or her job. Such sanctions can be retroactive, affecting scientists appointed before the new regulations came into force — a questionable strategy prohibited by most constitutions, including Romania's.
It remains to be seen whether these factors will prevent the ethics council from acting efficiently, asserting its independence and gaining the role it deserves.
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