A researcher who admitted in 2012 to “intentional and systematic manipulation” of data and had two papers retracted has been banned from funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Dennis Rottländer, who will also be returning prize money he was awarded for the research, worked in Uta C. Hoppe’s lab at the University of Cologne. Hoppe, now at University Hospital Salzburg, remains under investigation, according to a statement from the DFG.
In October 2012, Hoppe informed the DFG that her former colleague had admitted in writing that he had deliberately and systematically falsified electrophysiological traces in two of the papers concerned. These two papers formed part of a proposal by Rottländer for a DFG research fellowship. Both papers were withdrawn in December 2012, with explicit reference to misconduct on the part of Rottländer. Rottländer also returned an award he had received in this context along with the prize money.
Following preliminary investigations by the Head Office, the DFG initiated formal proceedings by the Committee of Inquiry against both Hoppe and Rottländer. In view of the admission of misconduct, the committee decided to first address the case against Rottländer. With regard to the allegations made against Hoppe, the committee recommended that the DFG should await the completion of investigations by the University of Cologne before proceeding. The university’s investigations are likely to be completed before the end of the year.
In Rottländer’s case, after considering various statements, including an expert statement, the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct came to the conclusion that Rottländer had deliberately manipulated data in the two papers in question and that this constituted scientific misconduct. For both papers Rottländer was the responsible first author. He stated that he falsified the traces because of the scientific expectations of the leader of the working group after a short induction period. He was “very worried about his position and his career” because he only had a fixed-term annual contract. As he was unable to achieve the measurement results expected by the group leader quickly, he began to “put together” traces. Rottländer has apologised several times for his misconduct.
In view of the deliberate data manipulation that took place, the committee proposed that, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure, a written reprimand be issued and Rottländer be banned from submitting proposals for four years. The DFG’s Joint Committee has now followed these recommendations. “These measures appropriately and adequately reflect the wrongness of Mr. Rottländer’s conduct, the deliberate falsification of data and research results, and the publication of these false results. The pressure described by Mr. Rottländer is understandable, but does not excuse his misconduct in any way,” said the chair of the Joint Committee, DFG Secretary General Dorothee Dzwonnek, following the committee’s decision.
Hat tip: Paul Brookes