Implementation of Good Scientific Practice

Do you know the guidelines for good scientific practice (GSP) of the German Association of Sciences (DFG)? Do you know that supervision is explicitly a part of GSP? Or that the guideline itself states that the implementation must be ensured by the organizations? If yes, well done! Many scholars, on every possible career step in academia are not aware on how good science should be conducted. This is the conclusion of a World Café table that was moderated by the board members Jonathan Stefanowski (Leibniz PhD Network) and Tim Lienig (Helmholtz Juniors) at the UniWiND Symposium in Freiburg (Breisgau).

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, the Universitätsverband zur Qualifizierung des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses in Deutschland (University Association for the Qualification of Young Scholars in Germany, short UniWiND) invited staff of the administrations from universities and graduate schools, as well as doctoral researchers and their representatives. During the event UniWiND recapitulated past and current developments aiming to improve strategies and qualification of doctoral researchers and postdocs. (Find an overview on the topics here.) In a World Café, the N2-hosted table put a spotlight on the question:

How to support the implementation of good scientific practice?

Basic content of the guidelines for GSP

The DFG guidelines for GSP do not only define the standards for scientific work, they also allow conclusions about what could be defined as scientific misconduct. Typically, what comes to mind are conflicts on authorship contributions or the quality of data collection and analysis. Often GSP is discussed in just this context alone, which also includes incomplete reporting or even manipulation of data. One could summarize this subject as ‘publishing-related scientific practices’. However, the GSP also include the supervision of early-career scientists. Consequently, it is not a matter of debate that bad supervision and its subsequent conflicts are and must be called a result of “scientific misconduct”. Good supervision is about the quality of science. This also means that the instances that are consulted for scientific misconduct, the ombudspersons, must act accordingly, when accusations of poor supervision are being reported.

Challenges of the guidelines implementation

What became clear is that both, the supervisors and the doctoral researchers lack the knowledge on GSP in general and – even more – the awareness that supervision is a part of GSP. This itself is a dramatic statement. Furthermore, the visibility of contact persons for reporting conflicts and scientific misconduct is often lacking. In case the right contact person is known, non-reporting is often a matter of trust, shame, and believe into the effectiveness of possible actions. This is partly because in many cases, ombudspersons, supervisors, directors, equal opportunity officers etc. are working closely together or even are friends. One can also observe that even in serious cases, the consequences for convicted perpetrators do not impact their academic career and they continue to work in the same work environment. It seems that academic careers of people in power are protected, but victims lose their career perspective entirely.

Suggested solutions for the identified challenges

Many challenges exist. And the good news is, that the solutions are numerous and colorful. Clearing offices, with trained personnel could be a solution for efficient reporting and conflict resolution, the involvement of emeritus as contact persons in this context was proven to be fruitful at some universities, and the independence of contact persons seems to be of great importance. One suggestion for arbitration could be to ban convicted perpetrators from funding. However, raising awareness for GSP was identified by the participants as the biggest issue. Here, many agreed that one should start to teach GSP as early as possible in school or at least during the bachelor’s studies. Be it obligatory trainings, lectures, or half-day workshops upon employment of group leaders, before matriculation, at the initiation of the PhD phase, or even annually. As a simple solution, e-learning tools have already been established at some universities. From experience, it was reported that most courses are not being visited when they are offered without incentive and concluded that an obligation is currently necessary but not implemented.

World Café discussions are based on the experience of many, and the situation described here has not been backed up with references. However, it is striking that in order to answer the question of how to support the implementation of good scientific practices, it was not steep hierarchies, not the imbalance of power, and not the publication system, which was identified as a core problem, but the unawareness of what good science is actually about.

Text: Jonathan Stefanowski, Tim Lienig, Anja Jahn
Header picture: UniWiND 2019, Fotographer: Patrick Seeger
Flip-chart picture: Tim Lienig

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