Bostanci, Adam. "Germany Gets in Step With Scientific Misconduct Rules," Science 296 (7
June 2002), p. 1778.
Berlin - Five years after a major fraud scandal rocked the scientific establishment, Germany's
universities are about to get their first binding standards of ethical research. Universities must
implement the new rules by the end of this month or risk being ruled ineligible for grants from
the country's main research funding body, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
The rules follow international norms in defining scientific misconduct as "deliberate or grossly
negligent falsification or fabrication of data." Other serious transgressions listed are deceit,
plagiarism, and damage to the research of others. Possible sanctions include the loss of research
contracts and the revocation of academic titles. Moreover, says DFG president Ernst-Ludwig
Wmnacker, "failure to cooperate with investigations will be considered an admission of guilt."
The regulations are a welcome tonic for a community embarrassed by misconduct inquiries that
have dragged on for months or years and in some cases held little consequence for implicated
individuals. The rules also try to ease the publish-or-perish pressures that, some argue, tempt
young researchers to commit fraud. According to the new code, promotion decisions should no
longer be based on quantitative measuressuch as publication volume - but on quality and
originality. "This is a crucial point, especially in clinical research," says Ulf Rapp, a cell biologist
at the University ofWiirzburg.
The misconduct rules are the fruits of much soul-searching after a DFG-funded task force found
falsification in dozens of papet's authored by a pair of cancer researchers, Friedhelm Herrmann
and Marion Brach (Science, 23 June 2000, p. 2106). A special DFG commission developed the
regulations in consultation with international fraud experts. Any institution that receives DFG
funding - meaning the vast majority of Germany's research centers and universities - has until 30
June to implement the rules. The threat of falling into DFG's disfavor has so far motivated 70%
of Germany's research institutions to adopt the guidelines. Most others expect to have them in
place by the deadline.
It's unclear, however, whether the rules will apply uniformly to au scientists. For those holding
pennanent jobs as public servants, it is up to ministerial employers rather than DFG - to punish
misconduct, and proving deliberate or gross negligence in data fabrication is notoriously difficult.
However, talks are currently under way over possible changes to the employment law.
Under the new rules, institutions must appoint an independent ombudsperson who will initiate
probes of misconduct allegations while protecting whistleblowers. In addition, to speed up future
investigations, the new rules state that-wherever possibleprimary research data must be stored for
10 years. This "is probably the one area in which researchers are most careless," says Johannes
Dicbgans, a neurologist and ombudsperson at the University of Tiibingen. Failure to archive
research records, or their deliberate destruction, could be judged as gross negligence and hence
be punishable. Some experts are less impressed with the new regulations. Hans-Jiirg Kuhn, an
anatomist at the University of Gottingen, says that the rules often "state the obvious" while being
hard to follow in practice. He is currently leading an investigation into llleged fraud in a cancer
vaccine trial. The inquiry has been going for 16 months and is under mounting pressure from the
media and from scientific leaders to deliver a verdict. Kuhn says he is not convinced that the
rules, if they had been in place earlier, would have speeded up his investigation, which he says
has been thwarted by slow access to patient information. "Privacy protection laws make it
virtually impossible to store patient information in a manner that is easily accessible to later
investigations," he says - and the new rules don't change that.
After 30 June, DFG will assess how institutions have implemented the rules. Peter Hans
Hofschneider, a professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried
who raised the alarm in the Herrmann-Brach case, says that DFG should come down hard on any
institution that fails to adopt the rules. "If our efforts to put the guidelines into place are to be
taken seriously, the DFG should act decisively;' he says.