Thursday, June 30, 2016

Netherlands to fight academic misconduct on a national level

The Times Higher Education online is reporting that the Netherlands are starting an ambitious project to deal with academic misconduct and the reproducability crisis. One major thrust of the project is a 5 million € grant called "Fostering Responsible Research Practices" that will include a nationwide survey. An additional 3 million € will be invested for encouraging replication studies.

The survey is intended to ask every scientist if they have ever committed research misconduct or "sloppy science", according to the THE. Prof. Lex Bouter, professor of Methodology and Integrity from the VU Amsterdam and one of the driving forces behind the initiative, according to the THE, is also co-chair of the 5th World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI 2017) which will take place May 28-31 in Amsterdam next year. [Disclosure: I am a member of the European advisory committee for this conference.]

Daniele Fanelli published a paper in PLOSone in 2009, "How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data" that 
[...] found that, on average, about 2% of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once – a serious form of misconduct my [sic] any standard [...] – and up to one third admitted a variety of other questionable research practices including “dropping data points based on a gut feeling”, and “changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source”.
Two percent may not seem to be much, but these are self-reporting surveys and people tend to underreport dishonest behavior. And since science builds on the work of other researchers, depending on their honesty, one dishonest researcher can easily poison the work of two dozen others who spend time reading and understanding their papers or attempting to replicate their research.

I assume that one result of a nationwide survey will also be raised awareness about the problem of academic misconduct. Germany could certainly use a survey like this as well....


  1. without making such a big fuss about it, germany already has a survey like this:

  2. Canada's CIHR is starting, slowly, to do the same

  3. Dutch national initiatives for transparency and improvement of research integrity can be perceived as credible for their true intentions. German initiatives however often only demonstrate activism, while in reality the decentralised system continues pushing under the local carpet and claiming confidentiality in closed networks and circles of amigos. The "Unabhängige Selbstkontrolle" remains the alleged key principle in German academia but is inherently impossible and thus not credible from its very inception. The committee "Ombudsman für die Wissenschaft" can stand for the facade producing to the public (and to the DFG ?) an appearance – a mascaraed full of own disclaimers why the committee is in the end not in charge of anything beyond press conference and workshop events. (Reading their bi-yearly reports is an eye-opener.) In Germany there is nothing that in essence would get anywhere close to an initiative like NRIN in the Netherlands, let alone The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with an independent ruling authority.
    The weblog at is an example with a diary of a showdown and academic misconduct that made it into court some years ago. The chronicle discloses also in detail the interaction with the German "Ombudsman für die Wissenschaft" as a benchmark test and laughable experience of what “Selbstkontrolle” implies.