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Press Release No. 26 | 2 July 2014
Reprimand and Ban on Submitting Proposals for Four Years

DFG Decides on Action Against Medical Scientist for Deliberate Data Manipulation

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is again imposing sanctions following an instance of scientific misconduct. At its session at the DFG's Annual Meeting 2014 in Frankfurt am Main, the Joint Committee of Germany's largest research funding organisation and the central self-governing organisation of the German research community announced that it will issue a written reprimand to medical scientist Dr. Dennis Rottländer and ban him from submitting proposals for a period of four years. Both actions were implemented in accordance with the DFG Rules of Procedure for Dealing with Scientific Misconduct and at the recommendation of the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct.

Dr. Rottländer was a member of the working group led by Professor Ulla C. Hoppe, formerly of University Hospital Cologne, now at Salzburg University Hospital. In May 2012 the DFG was made aware of allegations of data manipulation in several papers, for which Hoppe was a corresponding author and which had been funded by the DFG. A reviewer had noticed identical and mirror-image “patch clamp” traces in various illustrations.

In October 2012, Hoppe informed the DFG that her former colleague had admitted in writing that he had deliberately and systematically falsified electrophysiological traces in two of the papers concerned. These two papers formed part of a proposal by Rottländer for a DFG research fellowship. Both papers were withdrawn in December 2012, with explicit reference to misconduct on the part of Rottländer. Rottländer also returned an award he had received in this context along with the prize money.

Following preliminary investigations by the Head Office, the DFG initiated formal proceedings by the Committee of Inquiry against both Hoppe and Rottländer. In view of the admission of misconduct, the committee decided to first address the case against Rottländer. With regard to the allegations made against Hoppe, the committee recommended that the DFG should await the completion of investigations by the University of Cologne before proceeding. The university's investigations are likely to be completed before the end of the year.

In Rottländer's case, after considering various statements, including an expert statement, the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct came to the conclusion that Rottländer had deliberately manipulated data in the two papers in question and that this constituted scientific misconduct. For both papers Rottländer was the responsible first author. He stated that he falsified the traces because of the scientific expectations of the leader of the working group after a short induction period. He was "very worried about his position and his career" because he only had a fixed-term annual contract. As he was unable to achieve the measurement results expected by the group leader quickly, he began to "put together" traces. Rottländer has apologised several times for his misconduct.

In view of the deliberate data manipulation that took place, the committee proposed that, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure, a written reprimand be issued and Rottländer be banned from submitting proposals for four years. The DFG’s Joint Committee has now followed these recommendations. "These measures appropriately and adequately reflect the wrongness of Mr. Rottländer's conduct, the deliberate falsification of data and research results, and the publication of these false results. The pressure described by Mr. Rottländer is understandable, but does not excuse his misconduct in any way," said the chair of the Joint Committee, DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek, following the committee's decision.

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