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 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.
Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty
“Scientific dishonesty shall mean intentional or grossly negligent conduct in the form offalsification, plagiarism, non-disclosure or any similar conduct involvingundue misrepresentation of a person’s own scientific work and/or scientific results. Included hereunder are:
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:
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.
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.