BERLIN--Five years after a major fraud scandal rocked the scientific establishment, Germany's universities are about to get their first binding standards of ethical research. Universities must now implement the code of conduct by the end of this month or risk being ruled ineligible for grants from the country's main research funding body, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
The rules follow much soul-searching after a task force found falsification in dozens of papers authored by a pair of cancer researchers, Friedhelm Herrmann and Marion Brach (Science, 23 June 2000, p. 2106 ). Moreover, other fraud investigations in Germany have dragged on for months or years and held little consequence for implicated individuals--to the embarrassment of many German researchers.
The new rules aim to change this. Developed by a DFG commission in consultation with international fraud experts, the rules define scientific misconduct as "deliberate or grossly negligent falsification or fabrication of data." Other serious transgressions listed are deceit, plagiarism, and damage to the research of others. Possible sanctions include the loss of research contracts and the revocation of academic titles.
To speed up future investigations, institutions must now appoint an independent ombudsperson who will initiate probes of misconduct allegations while protecting whistleblowers. In addition, the new rules state that--wherever possible--primary research data must be stored for 10 years, and failure to do so, or the deliberate destruction of research records, could be judged as gross negligence and hence be punishable.
While some uncertainty remains about how effective the new rules will ultimately be, the threat of falling into DFG's disfavor has so far motivated 70% of Germany's universities and research centers to adopt the guidelines. Most others expect to have them in place by the deadline.
Peter Hans Hofschneider, a professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried who raised the alarm in the Herrmann-Brach case, welcomes the rules as a step in the right direction. However, he says the DFG should come down hard on any institution that fails to adopt the rules. "If our efforts to put the guidelines into place are to be taken seriously, the DFG should act decisively," he says.
Misconduct, as defined by the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy 
More detailed Science article on German misconduct rules 
DFG recommendations for a code of conduct (in German)