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Dealing with
The Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty
A state has laws for regulating the
behaviour of its inhabitants in order
to prevent undesired actions. In the
same spirit, it is necessary to agree
on basic rules for good conduct in
the sciences and to establish a legal
system to handle scientific
misconduct – breaking the rules –
when it occurs.
Vagn Lundsgaard Hansen
The Baltimore case in the United States showed that it is hard
to unravel fraud in the sciences without proper means. The
case began in 1986 and was concluded in 1996.
In 1992, the Danish Medical Research Council established an
agency, the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD),
to deal with scientific misconduct in the health sciences.
The term ‘Scientific Dishonesty’ was chosen to reflect that the
committee should not only consider cases of direct fraud but also less
clear-cut cases of improper research behaviour.
As a special thing, researchers could by themselves ask for an
investigation of named, anonymous or source-protected allegations of
scientific dishonesty in order to be cleared of unfounded accusations.
The committee had 7 researchers from the health sciences as
members and 7 alternates. Chaired by a High Court Judge.
The agency for handling misconduct in the health sciences was a
success and in 1998, the Danish Research Councils established
three committees, called the Danish Committees on Scientific
Dishonesty (DCSD), one for each of the broad areas: (1) Natural
Science, Agricultural and Veterinary Science and Technical Science,
(2) Health Science, (3) Social Science and the Humanities.
From 1 January 1999 the three Committees on Scientific Dishonesty acted
under “Danish Executive Order No. 933 of 15 December 1998”.
The committees got a joint secretariat in the Danish Research Agency and
were chaired by a joint chairman – a High Court Judge. Each committee
was composed of 4 researchers as members and 4 alternates.
The case against Bjorn Lomborg - the sceptical environmentalist - in
2002-2003 changed life for DCSD. This somewhat awkward case
revealed among others the great problems in reaching balanced
decisions when judging scientific conduct in cross-disciplinary research.
In the wake of the Lomborg case, new regulations were installed for DCSD:
“Executive Order no. 668 of June 28, 2005”; in force from 1 August, 2005.
The system still consists of three committees:
• the Committee on Scientific Dishonesty for Research in
Health and Medical Science.
• the Committee on Scientific Dishonesty for Research in
Natural, Technological and Production Science.
• the Committee on Scientific Dishonesty for Research in
Cultural and Social Science.
The committees have a joint secretariat in the Danish Research Agency and
are chaired by a joint chairman – a High Court Judge.
Each committee has 6 researchers as members and 6 alternates.
A complaint made to DCSD shall be considered by the committee under
which the research field of the defendant belongs.
Scientific dishonesty as defined by
Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty
“Scientific dishonesty shall mean intentional or grossly negligent
conduct in the form of falsification, plagiarism, non-disclosure or any
similar conduct involving undue misrepresentation of a person’s own
scientific work and/or scientific results. Included hereunder are:
• undisclosed fabrication and construction of data or
substitution with fictitious data;
• undisclosed selective or surreptitious discarding of a
person’s own undesired results;
• undisclosed unusual and misleading use of statistical methods;
• undisclosed biased or distorted interpretation of a
person’s own results and conclusions;
• plagiarism of other person’s results or publications;
• a false credit given to the author or authors,
misrepresentation of title or workplace;
• submission of incorrect information about scientific qualifications.”
Comparing regulations
The wording of the definition of scientific dishonesty is not
dramatically changed in the new set of regulations for DCSD.
A few changes in the regulations could turn out to cause problems:
• DCSD can now only declare a defendant guilty or not guilty in
scientific dishonesty. The milder guilty verdict ‘acted outside
the norms for good scientific practice’ is no longer allowed.
• DCSD can now only accept to investigate an accusation of
scientific dishonesty, if the whistleblower is a party, i.e. the
whistleblower shall have a direct personal interest in the case.
• Only people with academic training (candidate level at least) can
be convicted for scientific misconduct.
• Only researchers in public institutions (universities, hospitals etc.)
can be brought for DCSD without acceptance from the workplace.
The members of each of the three committees shall all be recognised
researchers, who between them cover all areas of scientific research.
To help investigating a case, the DCSD may appoint ad hoc committees
of experts for clarifying details in an allegation about misconduct. The
final decision is made by members of the DCSD.
The most spectacular case for DCSD in recent years is surely the
Lomborg case. Found not guilty in intentionally scientific misconduct.
Another dramatic case concerned a case with fabrication of data by a
renowned biologist. Found guilty in intentionally scientific misconduct.
The DCSD considers about 12 cases per year. About 3 cases contain
elements of misconduct.
In cases where scientific misconduct has been established, the employers
of the researcher is informed and it is then up to the employers to take
actions as appropriate. If called upon, the DCSD will suggest sanctions.
Further remarks
When a case is brought for the DCSD, all involved are asked to
keep the case confidential until a ruling has been made.
Unfortunately, the persons involved do not always respect keeping
matters confidential during the process. This can give rise to
misunderstandings about how the DCSD work and sometimes it
creates problems. The DCSD have no sanctions against improper
breaking of confidence.
All verdicts in cases brought for DCSD are decided by researchers
in subject areas close to the subject area of the particular case.
To reach a verdict, at least 4 members and the chairman
shall be present.
Thank you for your attention
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