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Press Release No. 52 | 8 October 2009
Exclusion from Statutory Bodies and Reprimands: The DFG takes Action in Response to Scientific Misconduct in Göttingen

Joint Committee agrees on disciplinary measures for five researchers

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has taken disciplinary action as a result of the scientific misconduct by members of the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 552 "Stability of Rainforest Margins in Indonesia" and the Research Training Group (RTG) 1086 "The Role of Biodiversity for Biogeochemical Cycles and Biotic Interactions in Temperate Deciduous Forests", based at the University of Göttingen. The Joint Committee of Germany's largest research funding organisation agreed on disciplinary measures against five researchers at a session which took place in Bonn today, in accordance with the DFG's agreed procedure for handling cases of scientific misconduct.

According to the decision taken by the Joint Committee, the former coordinator of CRC 552, Professor Teja Tscharntke, and the former coordinator of RTG 1086, Professor Christoph Leuschner, will be barred from sitting on any of the DFG's statutory bodies for a period of three years. Written reprimands will be issued against Dr. Jan Barkmann, Professor (apl) Heiko Faust and Professor Stefan Vidal. Eight other researchers were found guilty of scientific misconduct, although no further action was taken against them.

With these decisions, the Joint Committee implemented the proposals made by the DFG's Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct, which had investigated the allegations raised in connection with the project renewal reviews for CRC 552 and RTG 1086. In the case of CRC 552, it was discovered in February 2009 that several publications that were described in the renewal proposal as having been submitted to a journal were actually not submitted until later or had not yet been submitted at all or were not yet ready for submission as a manuscript. This applied to a total of 34 publications. In the case of RTG 1086, it was also discovered in March 2009 that some of the publications that were described in the proposal as having been submitted were not submitted until later and that other details about the stage of progress of some of the publications were incorrect. This applied to a total of 20 publications.

To examine the facts of the matter, the DFG Committee had initially initiated individual investigations against 16 researchers. Two of these investigations were already closed during their preliminary stages, as they were found merely to be cases of "slight negligence", whereas the DFG's rules of procedure for handling cases of scientific misconduct only apply to "deliberate" and "gross negligence".

Following a thorough investigation and consideration of the facts of the matter - including consideration of the personal statements of defence submitted by the affected researchers - the Committee came to the conclusion that the incorrect information concerning the date of submission claimed for manuscripts was considered to be actual scientific misconduct in 13 cases. One more alleged case of scientific misconduct was dropped due to lack of evidence of any scientific misconduct.

Of the 13 people affected - one woman and twelve male researchers - the former coordinator of CRC 552, Professor Tscharntke, and the former coordinator of RTG 1086, Professor Leuschner, were found to bear particular responsibility for submitting the proposals in accordance with the DFG's guidelines and to require the researchers involved in submitting the proposals to ensure that the details they submit were correct, which they had evidently failed to do. This was exacerbated by the fact that it was the representatives of Collaborative Research Centres, in particular, who had insisted on the details regarding submitted papers remaining in DFG proposals in discussions with the DFG. The two coordinators should have adhered to this self-imposed rule of the scientific community all the more. The three-year exclusion from any involvement in the DFG's statutory bodies that has now been imposed on Professor Tscharntke and Professor Leuschner is intended as a reprimand for the bad example they set for the researchers in connection with their dealings with the DFG.

Of the three researchers who the Joint Committee issued a written reprimand against, Dr. Jan Barkmann had failed to submit three of the manuscripts described as "submitted", and Professor Stefan Vidal had failed to submit one manuscript by the date of the review and was also unable to provide it to the reviewers. Professor (apl) Heiko Faust had given incorrect details about one manuscript that had already been rejected for publication before the proposal was submitted and had not yet been resubmitted by the date of the review.

In the other eight cases, manuscripts were submitted later than stated in the proposals, in several cases not until very close to the date of the review. In these cases the Joint Committee considered it sufficient to ascertain that scientific misconduct had occurred, without taking any further action. In so doing, it also took into consideration the fact that the accused had already realised the seriousness of providing incorrect information, as they had done, as a result of the investigation conducted by the DFG and the University of Göttingen, and that the University of Göttingen had also initiated disciplinary proceedings in a number of cases.

The Joint Committee hopes that the action it has taken will send a signal that is both clear and measured to highlight the need for more prudence in connection with planned publications and details of such plans in funding proposals.

Today's decision marks the end of the investigation into scientific misconduct by CRC 552 and RTG 1086 by the DFG. The investigation into the use of funds, which was initiated in parallel to the investigation into scientific misconduct by the DFG continues and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. As a result of the allegations, the proposal for the continuation of CRC 552 was withdrawn on 18 February 2009 by the University of Göttingen and funding ceased on 30 June 2009. A decision on the continuation of RTG 1086 was postponed due to the investigation in May 2009 and is now expected in November 2009.

Further Information

Information on the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct can be found at:

Contact at the DFG's Head Office:

  • Dr. Kirsten Hüttemann,
    Legal Section,
    Tel. +49 228 885-2827,
    Kirsten.Huettemann@dfg.de