61 standards for honest research

Scientists, PhD candidates and students must conduct honest research. What that means exactly is elaborated in the new code of conduct that appeared last Friday. The number of rules has been increased considerably.
Roelof Kleis

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As of next month, the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (English version on VSNU webpage) replaces the previous version from 2004. The code has been overhauled. This means that the new version is a lot more concrete and therefore also more extensive than the previous one. The new code has no fewer than 61 standards that are required of ethical scientific conduct.

Basic principles

This is almost twice the number of standards compared to the old code. These 61 standards are an elaboration of the five basic principles that integer research must satisfy according to the authors. Research must be honest, careful, transparent, independent and responsible. The latter means that the interests of clients and financiers are also taken into account, among other things.

The code has been written with everyday research practice in mind.

Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol

One of the new aspects of these elaborated principles is that citation pushing is “punishable”. This is the act of improper raising one’s own or another’s citation score. The old code did not provide for this. The rule has been included at the request of WUR, confirms Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol when asked. The reason for this is a case of citation pushing that took place in Wageningen two years ago (article in Dutch; related articles also available in English).

Applied research

Mol is openly enthusiastic about the new code. ‘The code has been written with everyday research practice in mind. Moreover, applied research has also been taken into account explicitly. The TO2federatie, the collaboration of organisations for applied research, will also use this code. ‘This means that the entire Dutch research landscape will work according to the same code of conduct.’

Another new aspect of the code is that a distinction is made in the severity of scientific misconduct. ‘Research misconduct’ is the most serious judgement about misconduct. The qualifications ‘questionable research practices’ and ‘minor shortcomings’ have been devised for lesser offenses. According to Mol, this differentiation is a good thing. ‘Not every violation of the standards is equally serious.’

We also want to raise this issue among master’s students.

Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol

The authors of the code have indicated exactly which of the 61 standards fall into the heaviest category of misconduct. This applies to about a third of the standards. That seriousness is sometimes remarkable. For example, citation pushing is seen as a lesser offense than publishing research results that are not yet sufficiently certain. Failing to mention co-authors honestly and in the correct order is a more serious offense than misplacing research funds.

Staff integrity

The new code of conduct requires universities and colleges to ensure that staff and students know it and adhere to it. WUR will specifically appoint a new employee for integrity. Mol: ‘This person will have to make sure that this code is implemented and known. PhD candidates already encounter is at the start of their programme, but it can most certainly be improved. We also want to raise this issue among master’s students.’

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