Public Release:  DFG imposes sanctions for scientific misconduct

Exclusion from submission process and written reprimand

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

This press release is available in German.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has imposed sanctions for scientific misconduct, excluding one researcher from the right to submit proposals for a period of two years and issuing another with a written reprimand. The Joint Committee of Germany's central research funding organisation took these measures in accordance with the DFG's procedures for handling scientific misconduct. In both cases the Joint Committee followed the recommendations of the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct, which had previously investigated the claims.

In the first of these two separate cases, the researcher failed to identify passages of third-party material which were sourced from an unpublished manuscript and included in his funding proposal. This came to light when the author of the unpublished manuscript was asked to review the researcher's funding proposal.

In the Joint Committee's view, the inclusion of third-party material without proper citation represents an act of plagiarism and scientific misconduct. The fact that the researcher had been commissioned by his superior with reviewing the unpublished manuscript further aggravated the circumstances of this particular incident and represented a significant breach of trust.

In light of these circumstances, the Joint Committee of the DFG has ruled that the researcher's exclusion from submitting funding proposals for a period of two years is an appropriate sanction. "This penalty reflects the seriousness of the breach of trust in this case in addition to the act of plagiarism," stated DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek. Excluding researchers from the submission process is a sanction reserved for serious breaches of academic practice, and the ruling will send a clear message that manuscripts submitted for review are to be treated as confidential documents and are not to be used by reviewers for their own purposes as occurred here. However, the Joint Committee also noted that the researcher's superior also acted inappropriately by delegating the task of reviewing the manuscript to a subordinate. According to the Secretary General, the Committee of Inquiry expects the university where the two researchers are employed to conduct its own investigation into these acts of scientific misconduct.

In the second case, another researcher failed to properly identify several passages from a third-party work which were included in his fellowship proposal. The incident also came to light during the review process, resulting in an investigation by the DFG.

Both the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct and, subsequently, the Joint Committee ruled that the researcher's actions amounted to plagiarism and, as such, scientific misconduct. The researcher, who admitted to his failure to properly cite the passages in the course of the investigation, claimed that the error was due to inexperience, arguing that it was his first funding proposal. The Committee was not swayed by his admission of guilt, or his argument that time pressure and other stress factors had led to his mistake. The Joint Committee noted in its decision that such factors do not relieve researchers of the obligation to ensure their work meets the fundamental standards of scientific practice, including the proper citation of third-party material.

As the degree of misconduct was limited to an act of plagiarism, and did not involve a breach of trust or other aggravating circumstances, the Joint Committee decided to issue the researcher a "written reprimand". The ruling reflects the precedents set in earlier decisions and imposes an appropriate penalty for this breach of the fundamental principles of scientific practice.

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Further Information

Media contact:

DFG Press and Public Relations Office, Tel. 49-228-885-2443, presse@dfg.de.

For detailed information on scientific misconduct, good scientific practice, the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct and the DFG's investigation procedures and regulations, please see: http://www.dfg.de/en/research_funding/legal_conditions/good_scientific_practice/index.html

Contact person at the DFG Head Office:

Dr. Kirsten Hüttemann, Human Resources and Legal Affairs, Tel. 49-228-885-2827, Kirsten.Huettemann@dfg.de

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