Symposium on scientific misconduct

November 20, 2003

Cases of scientific misconduct have created a stir over the last few years and, due in part to extensive reporting by the media, have become a topic of debate even by those outside the research community. Discussion has focussed not only on considerations about causes and motives, but also on the question as to how universities and other research organisations deal with scientific misconduct and how effective the processes of inquiry into concrete incidences are.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the DFG Ombudsman have, for the first time, invited the ombudsman committees of universities and non-university research institutions to exchange experiences and ideas.

The two-day symposium, held on 12 and 13 November in Bonn, provided participants with an opportunity to examine in detail problems relating to scientific misconduct. On the first day of the conference, ombudsmen from various research organisations reported on their experiences during an internal meeting. The possibilities and limitations of the ombudsman system as a method of ensuring good scientific practice were also discussed. Professor Peter Hans Hofschneider from the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried gave a presentation on the difficult situation faced by "whistleblowers", whose interests often differ from those accused of misconduct.

It became evident from the reports and discussions that the strategies to combat the problem of scientific misconduct need to be applied at various points in the scientific system.

The initial aim is to increase awareness of good scientific practice among scientists and academics and thus prevent misconduct from the outset. In this context, it was stressed that researchers in leading positions have an obligation to assume responsibility in providing for and supervising young researchers. This is closely linked to furthering the process of establishing standards for good scientific practice, for example on questions of authorship, which is still at the heart of most disputes relating to misconduct.

The relationship between ombudsman committees and inquiry committees was also discussed. Here, the ombudsmen agreed that a clear definition of functions for both committees would ensure greater transparency and procedural clarity for all involved. At the same time, a permanent committee of experts should be set up to answer legal questions relating to scientific misconduct.

To improve the process for dealing with misconduct in the long term, a working group is to be set up to deal with improving protection for whistleblowers. At the same time, experience with cases of scientific misconduct is to be gathered into a collection of closed cases in order to identify problem areas and present and further develop approaches to solutions.

On the second day of the conference, to which representatives of the press were also invited, discussions focused on the potential causes of scientific misconduct and legal aspects of the inquiry process and the role of the media. In his thoughts on the causes of misconduct within the scientific structure, Professor Peter Weingart from the University of Bielefeld observed an "erosion of the behavioural code" which, he feels, can be attributed to a change in the scientific culture, where the maxims of shareholder value have now come to the fore.

Weingart pointed out the importance of the integrity of the scientific system as a whole, as breaches of the rules of good scientific practice can only be recognised and clarified within the system. Ulrich Schnabel from Die Zeit saw the role of the press in relation to scientific misconduct as that of a corrective. He feels there is a public perception that the discovery of scientific misconduct is often not followed up with legal action, which makes reporting in the media even more important as it publicises the results of inquiries into misconduct.

Finally, the presentation by Claus Christiansen from the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty provided insight into the procedures for investigating scientific misconduct in other countries. Investigations in Denmark are considerably more centralised and formalised than in Germany, and also prone to political intervention.

The DFG Ombudsman was set up in 1999 as an entity independent from the DFG. All researchers may turn to the DFG Ombudsman directly for advice and support on questions of good scientific practice.

The Ombudsman publishes its work in regular reports which are available on the internet at
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science ( AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 265 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million. The non-profit AAAS ( is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!,, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Scientific Misconduct Articles from Brightsurf:

Black police officers disciplined disproportionately for misconduct, IU research finds
An examination of racial differences in the disciplining of police officers in three of the largest U.S. cities consistently found that Black officers were more frequently disciplined for misconduct than White officers, despite an essentially equal number of allegations being leveled.

Who's Tweeting about scientific research? And why?
Although Twitter is best known for its role in political and cultural discourse, it has also become an increasingly vital tool for scientific communication.

Protecting scientific diversity
The COVID-19 pandemic means that scientists face great challenges because they have to reorient, interrupt or even cancel research and teaching.

Police officers' exposure to peers accused of misconduct shapes their subsequent behavior
A new Northwestern University study investigated how Chicago police officers' exposure to peers who had been accused of misconduct shaped their involvement in subsequent excessive force cases.

Marital infidelity and professional misconduct linked, study shows
People who cheat on their spouses are significantly more likely to engage in misconduct in the workplace, according to a study from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Only 2% of black Chicagoan' allegations of police misconduct were sustained
Between 2011 and 2014, just 2% of allegations made by black Chicagoans resulted in a recommendation for sanction against an officer, compared to 20% for white complainants, and 7% for Latino complainants.

University of Idaho study finds scientific reproducibility does not equate to scientific truth
Reproducible scientific results are not always true and true scientific results are not always reproducible, according to a mathematical model produced by University of Idaho researchers.

A scientific method for perfect fondue
Cheese fondue is an icon of Swiss cuisine and a dinner party staple.

Board independence protects firms from corporate misconduct
The more a company's board is independent from management, the less likely it will become entangled in corporate misconduct, according to new findings, from a meta-analysis of 135 studies, published in The Journal of Management.

Breastfeeding in Germany from a scientific viewpoint
Is breastfeeding really better? The intense debate on this question has been going on for decades -- and is often controversial and emotionally discussed.

Read More: Scientific Misconduct News and Scientific Misconduct Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to