BERLIN--Worried that high-profile media coverage of misconduct cases has tarnished the reputation of the country's scientists, the German research funding agency DFG plans to beef up its response to fraud allegations.
The agency announced on 13 November that it plans recruit two new groups of experts, one to advise the agency on legal issues surrounding misconduct investigations and a second to examine ways to better protect whistleblowers. The agency also plans to establish a database of misconduct cases, both to better judge the scale of the problem and to identify any recurring patterns of misbehavior.
In several cases in recent years, Germany's strong data- and employee-protection laws have slowed or limited the work of panels attempting to investigate misconduct allegations. For example, a committee investigating a clinical study in Göttingen had to get permission from all the patients involved before they could access the study's raw data (Science, 22 November 2002, p. 1531 ). At the same time, whistleblowers, who are often graduate students or postdocs, have little legal protection. The hierarchical German university system leaves young researchers especially vulnerable if they bring charges against a boss or colleague.
The moves drew praise from one long-time critic of DFG's handling of misconduct cases. Peter Hans Hofschneider of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, who has helped several whistleblowers make their charges public, says he senses a significant change in attitude from the DFG. "They are finally giving serious attention to the problem," he says. An official move to find ways to protect whistleblowers sends an important signal "acknowledging the important role they play in the system," he says.