Abbot, Allison. "Germany Tightens Grip on Misconduct," Nature 390 (4 December 1997), p..
[MUNICH] Germany's Max Planck Society (MPS), which runs 73 basic research institutes, has
approved a new set of internal regulations on the way in which cases of suspected scientific
misconduct should be handled. And its senate has agreed that an educational programme in
scientific ethics should be set up for young researchers.
According to the MPS president, Hubert Markl, this programme, to be set up through its
Wissenschaftliche Rat (scientific council), reflects a belief that preventing misconduct is more
fundamental than catching the relatively few scientists who go off the rails. Young scientists
must be instilled with "a wide and deepened consciousness of the importance of being
responsible members of the scientific community," he says.
Scientific ethics courses are likely to include such issues as correct ways of keeping scientific
notebooks, criteria for deciding the authorship of a paper, and criteria for acknowledging
technical contributions to papers. Issues relating to the social impact of research would also be
Parallel ideas about how to address scientific misconduct are emerging from the Deutsche
Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the major grant-giving organization for universities, which
earlier this year found itself unprepared to deal with the most spectacular case of systematic
scientific fraud to come to light in Europe.
In this case, two medical researchers, Friedhelm Herrmann of the University of Ulm and his
former colleague Marion Brach of the University of Lubeck, have been accused of fabricating
data in more than 40 publications (see Nature 387, 750 & 389,105; 1997). Brach has admitted
fraud, and says that Herrmann put her under pressure to cheat. Herrmann blames Brach, and
claims he was unaware that papers he co-authored included data from experiments that were
never carried out.
The case shocked Germany's scientific establishment, partly because of the extent of the deceit
and partly because it took so long to come to light. Young researchers in Herrmann and Brach's
laboratory had been aware for some time that publications from the laboratory included false
data, but were afraid to make a complain for fear of jeopardizing their careers.
The DFG, which had awarded substantial grants to the two researchers, then set up an
international committee to study the budsman needed issue of scientific misconduct, and will
draw up a report based on its recommendations.
Smaller cases of fraud that previously came to light in Germany have been handled in an ad hoc
way, and most members of the scientific community appeared content with this arrangement.
One exception was Albin Eser, director of the Max Planck Institute for International Criminal
Law in Freiburg. Until the Herrmann and Brach affair, Eser had been a relatively lone voice
calling for standard procedures for such cases.
The recommendations of a committee set up by the MPS in 1996 and headed by Eser have now
been enthusiastically adopted by a newly sensitized Max Planck Society. The new procedures are
designed to ensure that cases of scientific misconduct are dealt with rapidly, arid that both
whistleblowers and those innocently accused are protected.
Eser's committee has defined about 15 types of scientific misconduct, ranging from deliberate
data manipulation and infringement of intellectual property rights to compromising the research
According to the new rules, when suspicion of misconduct is raised in a Max Planck research
institute, the director should carry out an immediate informal inquiry within the institute,
protecting the name of the whistleblower, and informing in confidence the MPS vice-president
responsible for the research area. Anyone accused of misconduct will have two weeks to respond,
and will be told within a further two weeks whether a formal investigation will be launched.
Formal investigations will be carried out by a new standing committee, whose chairman, elected
by the senate, will have no connection with the MPS or its institutes. The committee will include
the relevant MPS vice-president and three members of the society's existing arbitration
The investigations committee will decide if misconduct has occurred and may make
recommendations about sanctions. Alternatives would indude a simple warnirg, a demand for
return of grant money, dismissal or - in extreme cases - calling in the public prosecutor. The MPS
president will decide which sanction to apply.
The report of the new DFG committee is likely to focus mainly on ways of ensuring that good
scientific practice is followed. And, like the MPS, it is expected to emphasize the importance of
attempting to solve problems at local level.
The DFG has advised universities to appoint independent counselors to whom young scientists
can turn when they suspect malpractice. The DFG president, Wolfgang Fruhwald, has suggested
that the DFG appoint an ombudsman to act as final arbitrator of unresolved cases.
Fruhwald also suggested that scientific societies and universities draw up their own codes of
practices. The German Physical Society has responded by setting up a committee to draw up a
‘code of honour'.
Fruhwald is concerned that political overreaction to the Herrmann and Brach case could lead to
strong central controls on research. He is worried that such a move could stifle scientific
creativity. But Eser believes that a national committee should eventually be set up "to streamline
things" for all research institutions.
Masood, Elsan. "...While US Students Own Up To Cheating," Nature 390 (4 December 1997),
[LONDON] Despite a steadily increasing emphasis on the need for scientists to act ethically ...
cheating remains widespread among students at US universities, according a survey of 4,000
students at 31 institutions.
The :survey: found that incidents of serious malpractioe have increased significantly over the past
three decades and, although hghest among students on vocational courses such as business
studies and engineering, they are also significant in the natural sciences.
The survey report, by Donald McCabe, professor of management at Rutgers University in New
Jersey, appears in the current issue of the journal Science and Engineering Ethics (4, 433-445;
1997). Based on the experience of university departments, McCabe concludes that strict penalties
are a more effective deterrent than exhortations to behave morally.
Cheating is more common at universities without an ‘honour code' - a binding code of conduct
for students, with penalties for violation. More than half of science students at universities with
no honour code admitted falsifying data in laboratory experiments.
More than two-thirds of all students polled said they had cheated in some way. Seventy-three per
cent of science students from universities without an honour code admitted "serious cheating."
The figure for those from universities with a code was 49 per cent. "Serious cheating" includes
copying from someone during an examination, and using crib notes.
Cheating at honour-code universities was acknowledged by 73 per cent of engineering students
and 53 per cent of social science students.