An independent panel set up by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has put forward a series of proposals for ensuring good scientific practice in Germany's universities and research institutes. Institutions failing to follow the guidelines should be excluded from research funding, it says.
Although the committee stresses that none of its recommendations is new, few German universities have formal regulations for handling allegations of scientific misconduct. The DFG set up the panel in response to a recent case in which two senior researchers were found to have systematically fabricated data over a number of years (see Nature 387, 750 & 389, 105; 1997).
In its proposals, issued this week, the committee says that universities should have clear definitions of different types of misconduct — for example, plagiarism and manipulation of data — and should make explicit where responsibility lies in a university for handling any concerns.
It also says that each institution should appoint an independent counsellor to whom a scientist aware of scientific misconduct in their laboratory could turn, and that the DFG should appoint an independent ombudsman to consider cases of scientific misconduct. Would-be whistleblowers, or scientists who consider themselves unfairly accused, should be able to choose whether to consult the local counsellor or the DFG ombudsman for advice.
The committee further recommends that the practice of honorary authorship should be abandoned, and that all primary data on experiments should be held for a minimum of ten years.