As initiators of the open letter that contributed to the resignation of the German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg after allegations of scientific misconduct (Nature 471, 135–136; 2011), we find the reaction of the scientific community disappointing.
Only a handful of senior scientists challenged Chancellor Angela Merkel's point that she had hired a defence minister, not a research assistant: they criticized her for conveying the impression that the issue, and thus academic integrity in general, was politically irrelevant. Some of Germany's most important research institutions took their time to issue cautious statements against the dismissal of fundamental academic principles. A few notable organizations have remained silent.
The affair also raises questions about the relationship between academia and society. Why has it been so hard to convey the importance of academic integrity, given that politicians in Germany and elsewhere regularly proclaim the advantages of the 'knowledge society'? And why did the professional self-regulation of science fail so miserably in the Guttenberg case? This case should mark the beginning, not the end, of a serious debate on academic rigour in Germany.