Ensuring good scientific practice
The Commission for the Investigation of Scientific Misconduct (KUVWF) investigates allegations of poor scientific practice. An interview with Commission member Prof. Dr. Yves Muller for our series about committees at FAU.
What is good scientific practice and what constitutes a breach of its principles?
To put it simply, good scientific practice is when researchers are wholly committed to the truth in their work, strive to present their results as accurately and effectively as possible and recognise those who deserve to be recognised. By doing all these things, researchers can avoid the most serious transgressions such as data manipulation, the concealment of unfavourable findings, and plagiarism. In addition, inadequate supervision of young researchers also constitutes scientific misconduct. The requirement for good scientific practice is firmly rooted in FAU’s guidelines. The Commission follows the guidelines stipulated by the German Research Foundation (DFG) very closely when defining good scientific practice.
What does their work involve? When and how do they step in?
The Commission gets involved when they are approached by whistleblowers. The first step involves separating information about actual scientific misconduct from the circumstances that surround it such as possible disagreements between researchers, for example. Firstly, the Commission initiates a procedure that is kept as transparent as possible and that is specified by the Commission’s regulations. At several points during the procedure, the researcher who is the subject of the allegations receives the opportunity to make a statement. However, the Commission must come to a conclusion at the end of the procedure.
How are Commission members elected?
The Commission is made up of three members. The FAU ombudsperson and deputy ombudsperson have an advisory role. This usually means that all faculties and a broad cross-section of the varied academic subjects at FAU are represented. Additional evaluations are also often requested in order to let us come to as fair a conclusion as possible. Commission members are nominated by the faculties and membership is limited to two terms of three years.
How are the results implemented?
The Commission is appointed by the President and does the groundwork. The Commission is solely responsible for assessing instances of scientific misconduct and can only make suggestions for potential sanctions. In the case of doctoral theses, this can lead to the doctoral title being revoked. Decisions in this case, however, are made by the Doctoral Affairs Committee and the Faculty Council of the relevant faculty. Both these bodies examine the case again in detail and the person accused of misconduct is once more given the opportunity to make a statement.
Are the Commission members’ opinions always unanimous or are there cases where they disagree?
Due to the relatively small size of the Commission on the one hand, and the often very serious consequences of the procedures on the other, Commission members agree that decisions should be made unanimously. For example, when dealing with questions arising from subject-specific practices for citing literature, it is important to consider the objections of all those involved. The Commission is extremely aware of the fact that nuances such as certifying gross negligence as opposed to minor negligence can have far-reaching consequences for the person affected. Essentially, the Commission regards itself as an instrument for quality assurance, safeguarding FAU’s high academic reputation and ensuring that all the undoubtedly excellent doctoral theses and research publications of FAU members receive the acclaim they deserve.