Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Another book on scientific misconduct in German

I published a short review of a Swiss dissertation from Zürich on scientific misconduct the other day. One of my regular readers, Hadmut Danisch, wanted to obtain a copy of the book and tried to purchase it through Amazon, only to be shown a very similar title by a different author:
Heike Ottemann
Wissenschaftsbetrug und Strafrecht
Zu Möglichkeiten der Sanktionierung von Fehlverhalten in der Wissenschaft
Dissertation Universität Jena 2006
Verlag Dr. Kovač
ISBN 3-8300-2605-6
Curious, we both ordered the book. He has published a long review of this book in German on his blog.

The first concern had been whether the younger book was in some way influenced by the older one. I am happy to say that the books are, indeed, completely different, although I would have expected a dissertation to include all relevant literature, so the dissertation in Jena should have referenced the Zürich dissertation.

Even though the structure is similar, the books are indeed quite different. The Zürich dissertation by Völger is very clean cut, precise, and discusses many legal aspects of just a few cases. The Ottemann dissertation starts out with a sweeping chapter on scientific misconduct starting with Ptolemy, Galilei, and Kepler. The cases are introduced with just a few sentences and a reference or two is given - often to newspapers such as the Berliner Zeitung or popular magazines such as Focus. The question of such sources being scientific enough for a dissertation must be left to the university in question to judge.

The Swiss dissertation gives a good overview of science funding and the Swiss university system and a thorough discussion of the legal aspects of scientific misconduct. The German dissertation, of course, discusses the German system, but is a good bit more superficial.

Danisch notes in his long review that Ottemann, in her attempt to discuss the reasons for scientific misconduct, often states as fact things that are not quite true.
"Würden die Stufen einer wissenschaftlichen Karriereleiter allesamt höchst integer beschritten, so gäben die karrieristischen Tendenzen im Rahmen wissenschaftlicher Tätigkeit nicht zwingend Anlaß zur Sorge. Allerdings wurde wissenschaftlicher Erfolg bis vor wenigen Jahren auch in Deutschland zu einem großen Teil an der Zahl der Publikationen eines Wissenschaftlers gemessen."
[It would not be a cause for concern for scientific endavour to be seen with carrierist tendencies, if all the steps of the career ladder were climbed with integrity. However, until recently, scientific success in Germany was measured in the number of publications a scientist can produce.]
Danisch notes correctly that there can be no reference demonstrating the "until recently", as many universities continue to this day to count the number of publications as the measure of success. Since we can't measure what we want to, we measure what we can.

In any case, with these two books there is a good overview given of the legal aspects of scientific misconduct in Switzerland and Germany. I am not aware of any such treatise for Austria - perhaps it will be soon forthcoming, as Austria has a rather large problem with cases of scientific misconduct at the moment.

1 comment:

  1. Nah, I don't think we need a book about scientific misconduct in Austria. After all, the rector of Medical University Vienna has already explained the reason: Women.[1] Since there are about as few women in Austrian science as in German science, there can consequently not be much of a problem.

    [1] http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,555365,00.html

    Last paragraph. I am not completely sure how this explanation covers the second big scandal in Innsbruck, but I guess by brain is just too small to understand it.