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FAQ: Humanities and Social Sciences

Frequently Asked Questions

Statement by an Ethics Committee

When do I need a statement by an ethics committee?

General

If you are planning to carry out studies on humans, identifiable human material or identifiable data, a statement from the locally responsible ethics committee is required. This general principle is further specified below for different areas of the social sciences, behavioural sciences and the humanities in accordance with the state of discussion reached in the subject areas.

I.

Information for the social sciences (especially sociology, political science, economics, social and cultural anthropology, educational science and related subjects)

See II below for information relating to psychology, see III below for information relating to projects abroad

  1. For the social sciences (and projects in related subject areas that use social science methods), the submission of a statement by an ethics committee is always required if patients are involved in the study.
  2. In the following instances, a detailed explanation is expected to be included in the proposal and a statement by an ethics committee may berequired:
    • The study involves persons with special protection needs (“vulnerable groups”), such as persons with limited capacity to give their consent.
    • The study and the material used in it are likely to trigger powerful emotions or cause severe psychological stress or traumatic experiences that go beyond the everyday life experience of participants (interviewees, those providing information, project staff, researchers and research subjects).
    • The study involves physical risks to the participants or results in physical pain.
    • Potential participants are not to be informed of the study.
    • Potential participants are not to be informed of the potential risks of participation and measures to avoid damage.
    • Participation in the study involves deception (e.g. in laboratory experiments).
    • The study exposes participants (interviewees, those providing information, project staff, researchers and research subjects) to exceptional risks (such as social risks, risks of criminal or civil liability, financial loss, professional disadvantages or damage to reputation; risk due to difficult security situation in the study room).

If you are not sure whether your project requires a statement of an ethics committee, please contact the relevant department.

II.

Information on proposals in the field of psychology

The following information applies to psychological studies and, by the same token, to comparable investigations in related subjects such as education research and psycholinguistics.

A statement by an ethics committee is required if the subjects are expected to take risks, if the study involves a high level of (physical or emotional) stress and/or if the subjects are not to be fully informed as to the aims and procedures of the study.

In general, the aims in obtaining a statement by an ethics committee are as follows:

  • to review the precautions taken to minimise the risk to the subjects,
  • to weigh up the benefits against the risks of the study,
  • to consider the provisions regarding the consent of the subjects or their legal representatives,
  • to verify compliance with the relevant legal provisions, in particular those concerning data protection.

A statement by an ethics committee is also required for psychopharmacological studies. If substances within the meaning of the Medicinal Products Act (AMG) are to be used in the planned project, the applicants are obliged to familiarise themselves with the legal framework and, if necessary, to submit a proposal to the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) based on what is at this stage only a provisional statement by an ethics committee.

If the subjects of the study are patients, a statement by an ethics committee is always required. A statement by an ethics committee is also required for fMRI or TMS studies. A statement by an ethics committee must be submitted for EEP studies if the subjects are children or elderly individuals (> 65 years). In the case of EEP studies of minors (especially those under 14), a statement by an ethics committee must be obtained which also reviews the consent of the legal guardian.
The submission of a statement by an ethics committee may also be required in individual cases under certain conditions. If you are unsure whether you need a statement by an ethics committee for your study, please contact the responsible DFG Programme Officer/Director.

III.

Information relating to projects to be carried out abroad

In the case of projects financed by the DFG to be carried out partly or entirely abroad, the legal provisions applicable in the respective country must be observed. In some cases, the involvement of ethics committees in the respective target or partner country may also be necessary.

A statement issued by a foreign ethics committee does not relieve the applicant of the obligation to determine whether a statement is also to be obtained from a German ethics committee. It might be necessary to obtain an additional statement from a locally responsible ethics committee in Germany. However, the German ethics committee may adopt the statement issued by the foreign ethics committee.

Where can I apply for a statement to be issued by an ethics committee?

To the local ethics committee at the faculty or university where the study is to be conducted. Psychologists can also contact the Ethics Commission of the German Psychological Society (DGPs, Externer Linkhttp://www.dgps.de/dgps/kommissionen/ethik/); linguists can contact the Ethics Commission of the German Linguistic Society (DGfS, Externer Linkhttps://dgfs.de/de/inhalt/ueber/ethikkomission/). 

If an ethics committee responsible for the discipline is not available locally, applicants can alternatively ask the ethics committee established by the respective society for a statement.

Do I have to submit a statement by an ethics committee when I apply for a grant?

As a rule, the statement by the ethics committee must be submitted along with the proposal. In exceptional cases, you should submit the statement as soon as possible to avoid any delay. Your proposal can only be processed and decided on after review if a positive statement has been issued by an ethics committee.

Devices/Software

When can funding be requested for instrumentation and software as part of a research application?

Only in cases where the instrumentation is not basic but supplementary. Basic instrumentation is the instrumentation generally used at a department, at an institute or in a field of work. The DFG assumes that the usual basic instrumentation is available when awarding grants and does not, as a rule, fund this need. Supplementary instrumentation is the additional equipment required for a DFG project.

For empirical research projects, the Review Boards for Linguistics, Educational Research, Psychology, Social Sciences and Economics have agreed on an exclusion list for typical basic instrumentation. According to this, the following fall under the category of basic resources as a matter of principle:

  • PCs, laptops
  • Exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis if the instrumentation has to meet special requirements and can only be used for a specific purpose (e.g. measuring computers, tropicalised instrumentation)
  • External storage media (e.g. hard drives, USB sticks)
  • (Digital) recording devices and accessories
  • Cameras/digital cameras with typical features
  • Video cameras/camcorders with typical features
  • Software for the workplace (e.g. Office), literature management and data evaluation (e.g. SPSS, Atlas, MAXQDA, Stata); subject-specific programming systems (e.g. MatLab)

Does the DFG cover the cost of the use of MRI instrumentation?

The DFG estimates a flat rate of €150.00 per hour of measurement time for MRI instrumentation up to 3 Tesla. For whole-body MRIs from a field strength of 7 Tesla upwards, this rate increases to €375.00 per hour.

It should be noted that these costs only cover a limited project-specific share of the total cost. Most of the full costs, in particular personnel costs for operation, maintenance contracts, depreciation and reinvestment costs, current expenses for building and maintenance etc., must be financed as part of the basic resources of the scientific research institutions.

The DFG contact for questions on the issue of MRI costs is

For further information, please see:

Psychology

What information on sample sizes is required for proposals in the area of psychology?

The determination of appropriate sample sizes for statistical hypothesis testing is of key importance in terms of the validity, interpretation and replicability of empirical research results. Explicit sample planning based on plausible criteria is therefore an essential quality feature for the funding eligibility of DFG proposals in the field of psychology. The review board has compiled the following information for applicants:

Sample sizes, i.e. the number of planned research units per study, should be determined based on statistical decision-making criteria. As a rule, a statistical power analysis is carried out to determine a priori sample size using an effect size that is theoretically postulated or empirically derived from previous studies. Realistic assumptions about a given effect size are necessary, for example the smallest effect size relevant to the respective research subject or an aggregate of estimated effect sizes from previous (pilot) studies, taking into account any possible bias of published effect sizes through p selection.

For studies in which statistical hypothesis testing is conducted using a significance test, the justification of the planned sample size should include the following information:

  • an indication of the statistical model by means of which the data is analysed,
  • specification of the specific statistical test in this model for which the sample size determination was carried out (usually testing the main question of the empirical study),
  • specification of the underlying effect variable to be detected with 1-β probability (statistical power) for type-1 error probability α (significance level) based on the determined sample size,
  • an explicit justification of the underlying effect size, and
  • specification of the chosen α and β error probabilities of the statistical test.

The information should be presented in such a way that the calculation is plausible and replication of the resulting sample size is possible.

Sample planning using a statistical power analysis based on the above information can be performed for many statistical procedures using freely available software (such as GPower, R packages, fMRIpower). For more complex statistical procedures (such as multivariate structural equation models, multilevel analyses or multivariate procedures and connectivity analyses in neuroimaging), statistical power analyses are often very complex or lack established, standard procedures. In individual cases, it may be necessary to resort to simulation studies that allow a statistical power analysis of the detection probability of an effect of a given size with a certain sample size.

If sample size is limited by the availability of study units (e.g. in the case of small clinical or neuropsychological populations or rare personal characteristics), or by the practical feasibility of very complex studies or other external factors, such limitations should be plausibly substantiated. In such cases, a sensitivity analysis can show the effect size that can be detected with sufficient statistical power based on the sample size that can realistically be achieved. On this basis, an assessment should be made of the extent to which the study can be expected to produce meaningful results despite the limited sample size.

If statistical decision criteria for hypothesis testing are used that do not provide for an a priori determination of the final sample size (e.g. Bayesian updating, sequential testing), the reasons for not using a specific number of cases should be explicitly stated. When applying for funding (e.g. remuneration for participants, personnel and material resources as survey costs), justified upper limits of the expected number of cases should be specified that allow the feasibility of the project to be assessed. Furthermore, the statistical procedure of hypothesis testing using the flexible sample size should be plausible and include the chosen cut-off rules for sampling and statistical decision-making.

What are the key issues when applying for direct replication studies in psychology?

The Psychology Review Board has discussed possible causes of false-positive findings and countermeasures and published the results of this discussion in an article in Psychologische Rundschau (Ulrich et al. (2016), Inflation von falsch-positiven Befunden in der psychologischen Forschung ("Inflation of false-positive findings in psychological research”). Psychologische Rundschau, 67, 163-174.). This discussion gave rise to the determination of funding criteria for direct replication studies, which you can also find here (available only in German):

Can licensed psychologists apply for a temporary substitute?

Yes. Licensed psychologists who hold a doctorate in psychology and who are active in patient care can apply for a temporary substitute to be released from their clinical duties.

A flat-rate amount is used to finance a temporary substitute position based on the category “postdoctoral position? and equivalent”:

irrespective of the actual remuneration of the person to be released.

Please also note the information contained in the module guidelines “Temporary substitutes”:

Ancient Cultures

What are the key issues in terms of handling research data?

Research data (in a broad sense) is an essential starting point for the vast majority of projects in the field of archaeology while at the same time constituting a major proportion of the research results. Review Board 101 (“Ancient Cultures”) has formulated recommendations and expectations for the handling of research data in proposals and funded projects, taking into account subject-specific challenges. The Review Board’s guide aims to provide concrete guidance on this important aspect both for the application and the review process.

Literary Studies

What are the key issues when submitting research proposals for scholarly editions?

Based on its experience of research proposals for edition projects, the Literary Studies Review Board has developed a guide that lays down criteria for the review of scholarly editions as well as standards for digital editions. This guide has primarily been compiled for reviewers, but it is equally relevant to the preparation of proposals in this area. For edition projects with a funding period of more than six years, proposals are to be submitted under the long-term programme.

Linguistics

What are the key issues when submitting research proposals for surveying language corpora?

At the initiative of DFG Review Board 104 “Linguistics”, two round-table discussions on the survey of oral and written language corpora took place in 2012 and 2013. As a result of these round tables, working groups were established which have formulated recommendations for the survey of language corpora. These recommendations relate to “Data system standards and tools in the survey of language corpora” and “Legal aspects involved in handling language corpora”. Both papers are intended to serve as a guide for all researchers in this field, especially applicants and reviewers in connection with DFG programmes.

Educational Research

What are the key issues relating to proposals in educational research involving the generation or use of extensive data sets?

At the initiative of DFG Review Board 109 “Educational Research”, a round-table discussion was held in 2014 on the provision and use of quantitative data in educational research. The quality of research in this field often depends on the available data sets, while the generation of such sets is highly sophisticated. The round table produced a memorandum describing fields of action and development perspectives with the aim of providing the most effective support possible for the handling of research data within the community of educational researchers. This is to serve as a guide for all researchers in this field, especially applicants and reviewers in connection with DFG programmes.

What quality criteria are to be applied in the evaluation of qualitative research projects in education?

On 18 and 19 June 2015, the DFG held a round-table discussion on “Quality criteria for the assessment of qualitative research projects in education”. The aim of the round table was to develop common quality criteria for the assessment of qualitative research projects which are to apply across the various approaches to qualitative research. The aim is to establish clearer guidelines and greater transparency in the evaluation of qualitative research projects, for both applicants and reviewers. This report summarises the results of the round table.

Economics

What are the key issues in relation to research data management in economics?

The Economics Review Board has formulated subject-specific expectations that applicants are to follow with regard to the careful handling of research data. These expectations complement and flesh out the RatSWD guidelines, for example.

Social and Cultural Anthropology, Non-European Cultures, Jewish Studies and Religious Studies

What are the key issues in terms of handling research data?

The Social and Cultural Anthropology, Non-European Cultures, Jewish Studies and Religious Studies Review Board has formulated recommendations and expectations for the handling of research data in both proposals and funded projects, taking into account subject-specific challenges. This guide is intended to provide applicants and experts with subject-specific orientation. It complements the DFG’s “Guidelines on the Handling of Research Data”.

Guide issued by Review Board 106 “Social and Cultural Anthropology, Non-European Cultures, Jewish Studies and Religious Studies” on the handling of research data:

Who are the people to contact?

If you have any questions about funding opportunities offered by the DFG or about subject-specific issues, the relevant contacts at the Head Office will be happy to help you.

Further Information

on DFG funding programmes: