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Guidelines on Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice and Handling Scientific Misconduct

These Guidelines are based on the Recommendations of the Commission on Professional Self-Regulation in Science of the German Research Foundation (DFG)1. Furthermore, the following Guidelines are based on recommendations of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) for the handling of scientific misconduct in higher education institutions2. The HRK measures address a specific aspect of the DFG Commission proposals, and some wording from both texts has been directly or indirectly adopted in these Guidelines.

I. Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice

Section 1

(1) Scientists at the University of Cologne are obliged to

  • observe professional standards,
  • document results,
  • consistently question their own findings,
  • practise strict honesty with regard to the contributions of partners, competitors and predecessors,
  • avoid scientific misconduct and take precautionary measures against it and
  • observe the following Guidelines.

(2) Rules of good scientific practice shall be integrated in the academic teaching and education of young scientists and scholars.

(3) Every head of a working group shall act as an exemplary academic role model. Experienced scientists shall caution students, young scientists and scholars to conduct their work honestly and responsibly. Sensitivity with regard to potential scientific misconduct shall thereby be conveyed.

Section 2

The heads of working groups are responsible for an adequate organisational structure of their groups. Such a structure shall ensure that the duties of direction, supervision, conflict resolution and quality assurance are clearly allocated and effectively fulfilled.

Section 3

Researchers heading a working group shall be responsible for the adequate supervision of its graduates, students and doctoral students. To that end, a primary mentor must be made available to each group member.

Section 4

Performance and evaluation criteria for examinations, academic degrees, career advancement, recruitment, appointment and allocation of resources shall be specified in such a way as to ensure that originality and quality take precedence over quantity.

Section 5

The coordinator responsible for a research project shall ensure that primary data serving as the basis for publications are securely stored in a durable form for ten years in the institution of their origin.

II. Scientific misconduct

Section 6

Scientific misconduct is defined as the intentional and grossly negligent statement of falsehoods in scientific work, the violation of intellectual property rights or the sabotage of other people’s research work. In particular, misconduct can take the following forms:

1. Misrepresentation, such as

a) fabrication of data,

b) falsification of data (e.g. by selecting and rejecting unwanted results without disclosing this fact; by manipulating a description or diagram),

c) inaccurate information in a letter of application for a post or in a funding application (including false information concerning where one’s work has been published and work that has been accepted for publication or is to be published shortly),

2. Violation of intellectual property rights in copyrighted work produced by another person or in other persons’ significant scientific findings, hypotheses, teachings or research approaches, such as

a) unauthorised use of work of which one falsely claims to be the author (plagiarism),

b) exploitation of research approaches and ideas, especially as a supervisor (theft of ideas),

c) claiming or unjustified acceptance of authorship or co-authorship of a scientific work,

d) falsification of content,

e) unauthorised publication and unauthorised provision to third parties before the work, finding, hypothesis, teaching or research method is published,

3. Claiming (co-)ownership by another person without obtaining their consent,

4. Serious obstruction of research work (including damage to and destruction or manipulation of test assemblies, equipment, documents, hardware, software, chemicals or other things that another person requires in order to carry out their scientific work),

5. Deletion of primary data if doing so is in contravention of legal provisions or accepted scientific practice in the discipline in question.

Section 7

A person can become jointly responsible for scientific misconduct through, for example

  • participation in others’ misconduct,
  • knowledge of falsification by others,
  • co-authorship or editorship of publications containing falsified information,
  • gross neglect of one’s supervisory duty.

III. Handling scientific misconduct


Section 8

The University of Cologne will investigate all cases in which there are concrete grounds for suspecting scientific misconduct. Should such investigation confirm that misconduct has taken place, the Rectorate will consider the measures available to it and take action appropriate to the case at hand.

Section 9

(1) A the Rectorate’s suggestion, the Senate will appoint an ombudsperson and a deputy , whom members and affiliates of the University of Cologne can contact to make an allegation of scientific misconduct. Persons suspected of scientific misconduct can also contact the ombudsperson.

(2) A tenured professor with civil servant status will be appointed as the ombudsperson. They are appointed for a period of three years and can be re-appointed once. The same applies to the appointment of the deputy, who stands in for the ombudsperson if there is a conflict of interest or if the ombudsperson is unavailable.

(3) The appointment of the ombudsperson and his/her deputy will be announced in the University’s official notices and the course catalogue.

Section 10

Allegations of scientific misconduct will be investigated by the Senate Standing Committee for Research and Young Researchers.


Section 11

When the ombudsperson is notified of a suspected case of scientific misconduct, they investigate the allegation to determine whether it is credible or whether it can be dismissed. If the ombudsperson concludes that there are sufficient grounds to suspect scientific misconduct, they inform the Committee.

Section 12

(1) The Committee investigates allegations of scientific misconduct when it is informed by the ombudsperson or at the request of one of its members. If the latter is the case, the Committee can proceed as described in Section 11 as an initial step.

(2) The Committee is authorised to take any steps necessary to establish the facts of the case. To this end, it can request any information or statements necessary and, in exceptional circumstances, consult experts in the relevant discipline. The ombudsperson attends the Committee meetings in an advisory capacity.

(3) Persons suspected of scientific misconduct must be informed of the facts and evidence against them.

(4) Both the person under suspicion and the informant must be given the opportunity to make a verbal statement.

(5) The identity of the informant must be disclosed to the person under suspicion if it is not known to them and if such disclosure is deemed necessary in order for the person under suspicion to mount a proper defence, especially since the credibility of the informant plays an important part in determining whether misconduct has occurred.

Section 13

If the Committee deems that scientific misconduct has been proven, it will also deliberate the possible routes of action, particularly possible consequences. Besides measures under employment or civil service law, such consequences can be of an academic, civil law or criminal law nature.

Section 14

The Committee reports to the Rectorate on the results of its investigation and presents a recommendation as to the decision to be taken. If the Committee deems that scientific misconduct has been proven, it also draws up a proposal for the action to be taken by the Rectorate.

Section 15

(1) Based on the Committee’s report and recommendation, the Rectorate decides whether the procedure can be terminated or whether scientific misconduct has been proven. If the latter is the case, the Rectorate also decides what action is to be taken. Section 13 applies mutatis mutandis.

(2) The person under suspicion and the informant must be notified of the Rectorate’s decision and the main factors that influenced it.

Section 16

The “Richtlinien zur Sicherung guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis und zum Umgang mit wissenschaftlichen Fehlverhalten” (Guidelines on safeguarding good scientific practice and handling scientific misconduct), published in the official notices (37/2001) of 15 November 2001, shall cease to apply upon these guidelines entering into force.

This is a copy of the “Official Notices 24/2011” of the University of Cologne and has no binding legal effect. The original version can be found PDF here.

1 Cf. Recommendations of the “Commission on Professional Self Regulation in Science”, NJW 1998, pages 1764 f.

2 “Zum Umgang mit wissenschaftlichem Fehlverhalten in den Hochschulen” (Dealing with Scientific Misconduct at Higher Education Institutions), recommendation of the 185th Plenary Assembly of the HRK on 6 July 1998, published in: Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (Hrsg.), Beiträge zur Hochschulpolitik 9/1998. page 5 f.