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Press Release No. 39 | 10 October 2013
Scientific Misconduct: DFG Takes Disciplinary Action in Two New Cases

Joint Committee Issues Two Written Reprimands and a Ban on Submitting Proposals for Two Years

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is again imposing sanctions following instances of scientific misconduct. At its meeting in Bonn on 10 October 2013, the Joint Committee of Germany's central research funding organisation took disciplinary action in two new cases in accordance with the DFG Rules of Procedure for Dealing with Scientific Misconduct. In both cases, it followed earlier investigations and recommendations made by the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct.

In the first case, a researcher had provided incorrect information about the publication status of a manuscript in his proposal for a DFG research fellowship. He said that it was "in press" although it had not reached that stage and was only "in preparation". A reviewer discovered that the information was incorrect during the review session.

The Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct then became involved and deemed the incorrect information to be scientific misconduct and the researcher's conduct to be at the least grossly negligent. As in earlier cases, the Committee based its evaluation on the fact that the DFG places a great deal of trust in applicants when it accepts the information they provide in a proposal as the basis for assessing a research project. Information about a publication also represents an important elementary component in evaluating an applicant's publication record. "As decisions concerning funding of considerable financial value are made on the basis of this information, scientific integrity and a general obligation to observe due process dictate that the information provided to future contractual partners and third party providers of funding must be true," said DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek following the Joint Committee’s decision.

The second case concerned plagiarism. A researcher quoted text word-for-word from publications by others but failed to name her sources in her proposal. This was also noticed initially during the review process, before a preliminary examination at the DFG Head Office found more verbatim copying of text for which the sources were not named correctly. Large sections of the funding proposal were affected by these citations, including explanations on the objectives and work programme and the project’s proposed research methods.

Here, too, the DFG's Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct found this to be scientific misconduct. The Committee did not accept the researcher's claim that despite citation of others' text, the idea for the proposal was hers alone. On the contrary, the numerous examples of plagiarism were believed to have obscured her view of the actual project objectives. Furthermore, the citations had been intended to exert a positive influence on the review process. The Committee said that with the scientist’s many years in research and her experience she has a duty to formulate her proposal in accordance with the principles of good scientific practice.

"Particularly in science and the humanities, it is an elementary principle to make it clear when other sources are being quoted and not to claim the ideas of others as one’s own. This is all the more important when submission of a proposal is the basis for a grant. A research funding body must be presented with a correct and reliable proposal,” said DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek.

Against this background the Joint Committee of the DFG decided that issuing a "written reprimand" was not sufficient in this case. The researcher is therefore also prohibited from submitting proposals for two years.

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