Retraction Watch

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Cardiology researcher who admitted to fraud earns four-year funding ban

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dfg_logoA 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.

Excerpt:

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 Both papers were withdrawn in December 2012, with explicit reference to misconduct on the part of Rottländer.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

Written by Ivan Oransky

July 23rd, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Comments
  • Eibl July 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I wish the DFG had pushed this hard to investigate my claims of plagiarism.

  • Leonid Schneider July 23, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Apparently what Rottländer did was not serious enough for the DFG. I wonder now what does one have to do to get banned from DFG funding for life. Seriously, reading his statements, how more unsuitable for science can one be? And what about Uta Hoppe’s other papers?

  • AI July 23, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    “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.” A story too common in the scientific field. The group leader will take the acclaim and when the fraud is out he/ she will wash the hands off the post doc / grad student.

  • VeWAPAC (Very Worried About Position And Career) July 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    This case again exemplifies the difference between fraud in science and fraud outside science. Fraudulent activities outside science receive punishment if discovered. Fraud in science doesn’t. In the worst case you may be banned from getting something you may not have received anyway (grants), but essentially all financial perks associated with the fraudulent activities remain yours (positions, pensions), even if some prize money needs to be repaid, as is the case here. Financially, therefore, scientific fraud almost always pays off. As long as this is not corrected by introducing potentially severe punitive measures, i.e. financial and custodial sentences, the incentives by far outweigh the deterrent. It is thus about time to treat scientists, and even MDs and other VeWAPACs, as grown-ups by ending the unjustified leniency with fraud in science.

    • BB July 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      I have to disagree. You seem to forgot how important our reputation is. In the life outside academia almost all our sins and crimes will be forgiven sooner or later. For example in most countries (at least here in Europe) prospective employers cannot access to your complete criminal history, they only see recent entries. In contrast the scientific community never forgets, or forgivess: once a fraudster – always a fraudster. Thus, deliberate misconduct is like russian roulette, it can provide temporary “benefits” but sooner or later you will find the bullet.

      • VeWAPAC (Very Worried About Position And Career) July 25, 2014 at 10:48 am

        Reputational damage is a factor, yes. However, there are plenty of examples where fraudsters keep enjoying their underserved perks gained through corruption. For example, the former Harvard guru Marc Hauser keeps publishing and now runs a “reputable” business. All he had to do is to return what he stole, his job at Harvard. The thief in the supermarket next door does not get away that cheap. And I am not aware that anyone involved in the Bulfone-Paus case has been stripped off their pensions or positions. The outcome is, in any event, arbitrary and by no means predictable. Thus, the model of “eternal out casting” appears not to work very well, and, more importantly, it strikes me as inappropriate and potentially inhumane. We are not living in the middle ages, where honour and nobility ruled (if that was ever true). We are living in an age where corruption is a problem in all walks of life (as was always the case). So, at least in the countries where the rule of law is already in practice, all forms of fraud and corruption should be treated in the same way, namely by using a modern, transparent, and humane approach as prescribed by a democratically agreed code of justice. All else has become an outdated bugbear.

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