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Press Release No. 62 | 7. December 2012
Scientific Misconduct: Decisions in Three DFG Cases

Measures Taken against Two Researchers / Data Manipulation and Negligent Supervision

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is again imposing sanctions following instances of scientific misconduct. Meeting in Bonn, the Joint Committee of Germany's central research funding organisation has decided to take action against two researchers in accordance with the DFG’s procedure for handling cases of scientific misconduct. In both cases, it complied with earlier investigations undertaken and recommendations made by the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct. A third allegation of scientific misconduct was not proven. In all three cases the allegations concerned data manipulation.

The cases and decisions in detail:

Case against Professor Silvia Bulfone-Paus, Research Center Borstel

The first of the cases now closed by the DFG was against Professor Silvia Bulfone-Paus, the Head of the Department of Immunology and Cell Biology at the Research Center Borstel. In May 2010, she notified the DFG that allegations of data manipulation had been made concerning several of her publications with a connection to the DFG . The DFG then launched a procedure to investigate the allegations. More investigations of these and other allegations against Bulfone-Paus were undertaken at the Research Center Borstel, the University of Lübeck and the Charité in Berlin. Some of them have not yet been concluded.

The allegations made against Bulfone-Paus were significantly substantiated in the first instance by the final report of the external investigation committee at the Research Center Borstel. In November 2010, it established that there were numerous occurrences of data manipulation in four publications based on DFG funding, among others. The Committee found that the first authors of these papers, who worked in Bulfone-Paus's laboratory group, were essentially responsible for this manipulation. However, the assumption was that she had not fulfilled her supervisory duties adequately.

Given this report and the substantial funding that Bulfone-Paus was receiving from the DFG at the time, in February 2011 the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct recommended that the researcher not appoint any new research personnel to DFG-funded projects until the DFG had concluded its inquiry and that she withdraw from her position as project leader. Bulfone-Paus had already voluntarily suggested that the DFG should not appoint her as reviewer nor as a member of any DFG committees for a period to be stipulated by the DFG.

The DFG Committee concluded that Bulfone-Paus had committed "gross negligence of her supervisory duty" in her function as the leader of the working group and was therefore guilty of scientific misconduct as stipulated in the DFG procedures. On the basis of this result, the Joint Committee of the DFG decided to issue Bulfone-Paus with a written reprimand, to prohibit her from submitting proposals for three years, and to exclude her from statutory bodies at the DFG and not to appoint her as a reviewer for three years. However, since Bulfone-Paus had voluntarily suggested at the start of the proceedings that she withdraw from her appointments, not be appointed as a reviewer, nor be included in statutory bodies, the Joint Committee decided that this period should count towards the measures taken, leaving only the issue of the written reprimand to continue in effect.

"These measures represent a suitable and appropriate means of reprimanding Ms. Bulfone-Paus for the sustained neglect of her supervisory responsibility towards the early career researchers. As an experienced researcher, Ms. Bulfone-Paus did not fulfil the essential function of providing a good role model for her colleagues," said the DFG Secretary General, Dorothee Dzwonnek.

Case against Dr. Elena Bulanova, Research Center Borstel

The second DFG case was brought against Dr Elena Bulanova, who was a member of Professor Bulfone-Paus's working group at the Research Center Borstel, the source of the publications in which data was alleged to have been manipulated.

The external commission at the Research Center Borstel, which was set up to examine these charges, named Dr. Bulanova as one of those primarily responsible for the data manipulation that had been discovered. A publication based on funding from the DFG was implicated in particular. The DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct also concluded that Dr. Bulanova had falsified data and some research results by manipulating the way they were represented and illustrated. She was the first author and corresponding author of the publication in question; following analysis and consideration of all the statements, another person who was alleged to have manipulated data was exonerated.

On this basis, the Joint Committee of the DFG decided, as recommended by the DFG Committee, to issue Dr. Bulanova with a "written reprimand" and to prohibit her from submitting proposals for five years. This outcome is intended to serve as an unmistakeable reminder that data and research results must be handled correctly and carefully. "Falsification of research results in publications is inexcusable and cannot be justified under any circumstances," stated DFG Secretary General Dzwonnek. "A ban on submitting proposals for a significant period of time is therefore appropriate."

Case against PD Dr. Volker Korz, University of Magdeburg

The third DFG case was brought against Dr. Volker Korz. It was alleged that at the end of 2008, in the course of his move from the Department of Neurophysiology at the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology (IfN) in Magdeburg to the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Magdeburg, he had manipulated data and published non-reproducible data.

After an initial investigation by the ombudsman at the University of Magdeburg ended in conciliation, at the end of December 2010 the Head of Dr. Korz's former working group at the IfN, Professor Julietta Uta Frey, contacted the "Research Ombudsman" as she felt that the allegations had been inadequately refuted. The Research Ombudsman is an independent committee, installed by the DFG, which provides assistance to all researchers in Germany on issues of good scientific practice. The Ombudsman handed the case over to the DFG in December 2011.

The DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct concentrated its case on the allegation of data manipulation in a laboratory record book and on the non-reproducibility of data connected with an unpublished manuscript. On the basis of an expert statement and a hearing with Dr. Korz in person, the Committee came to the conclusion that scientific misconduct could not be proven.

The Committee found that the allegation of deliberate or negligent data manipulation and that of non-reproducibility of data were not proven. Nevertheless, the experiments and working methods did not always comply with the rules of good scientific practice; however the boundary to scientific misconduct had not been crossed. In the view of the Committee, other disputed points arose from the failure of two schools of thought to agree on methods; scientific discourse would have to decide on their viability in terms of scientific procedure.

Further Information

Media contact:

  • Marco Finetti,
    Head of DFG Press and Public Relations,
    Tel. +49 228 885-2230,
    Marco.Finetti@dfg.de

DFG legal contact:

Detailed information about DFG activities regarding "good scientific practice" can be found at:

 

Additional Information

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