Press Release No. 69 | 3 December 2010
Reprimanded and Excluded from Submitting Proposals: DFG Imposes Sanctions for Scientific Misconduct
Joint Committee Agrees Measures Against Four Researchers
The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is once again imposing sanctions for scientific misconduct on DFG-funded researchers. The Joint Committee of Germany’s central research funding organisation decided to take measures against four researchers in accordance with the DFG’s procedure for handling cases of scientific misconduct. In all four cases, a “written reprimand” was issued. In two of the four cases, the researchers have also been prohibited from submitting proposals to the DFG for periods of three and five years. This is one of the DFG’s more stringent punitive measures. In reaching its decision, the Joint Committee followed suggestions made by the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct.
Of the four cases, that of medical practitioner Dr. Armin Heils became well-known last year through the media. Heils was the main agent of a high-profile epilepsy study which appeared in the “Nature Genetics” trade journal in 2003. This study supposedly proved that certain genetic mutations triggered epilepsy. Internal investigations by the University Hospital of Bonn in 2007 revealed, however, that the study was based on inaccurate data, and found that Heils was responsible for these inaccuracies. Heils was also the only one of the study’s 24 authors who refused to retract the study in question. As the DFG had funded Heils and the study published in Nature Genetics had made explicit reference to this funding, the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct took up the matter. At its recommendation, the Joint Committee decided to revoke Heils’ right to submit proposals to the DFG for three years. Heils also received a written reprimand. “This decision takes appropriate account of Mr. Heils’ wrongdoing, namely the deliberate falsification of data and research results and the publication of these fraudulent results”, said DFG General Secretary Dorothee Dzwonnek.
A second case also involves the falsification of research data. In this case, bogus data in a manuscript which had already been accepted by a DFG-funded publication was traced back to its DFG-funded co-author. The DFG Joint Committee also issued this researcher a written reprimand, as well as banning him from submitting proposals for five years. The severity of this case was complicated by the fact that despite his many years of experience working in science and research, the researcher involved did not conduct himself in a manner befitting a role model.
The third case involved the provision of inaccurate information about the status of scientific publications, both in a DFG funding proposal and during a review. In this case, a researcher provided incomprehensible and conflicting information as to whether several manuscripts had been “submitted”, “accepted” or were “in press”. Both the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct and the Joint Committee considered this – in accordance with precedent – scientific misconduct, which is why the researcher in this case was also issued with a “written reprimand”. According to the Committees, providing inaccurate information about the publication status of scientific works runs counter to the high credit of trust the DFG affords their applicants through allowing the information provided in the publications lists to serve as the basis for project evaluation. In addition to the researcher’s negligent treatment of correct information, the fact that he was unwilling to assist in clarifying the matter was viewed adversely.
The fourth case involved plagiarism. In this case, a funding proposal was submitted to the DFG in which third-party sources were cited, but not marked as such. The questionable passages concerned the core content of the funding proposal. The DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct considers this type of plagiarism unjustifiable. The applicant was also unable to appeal to the fact that the passages had been formulated by his co-workers; he alone carries the full responsibility for his proposal and its content. In this case, as well, the DFG Joint Committee issued a “written reprimand”.
Information on the DFG Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct can be found at:
Contact Person at the DFG Head Office
- Dr. Kirsten Hüttemann
Human Resources and Legal Affairs
Tel. +49 228 885-2827