Leibniz Prize belatedly awarded to scientist cleared of misconduct

Just before the March ceremony to bestow the coveted Leibniz Prize, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) received some disturbing allegations. An anonymous tipster accused one of the 10 scientists slotted to receive the award, materials scientist Britta Nestler, of misconduct. So the DFG held the ceremony on March 15, but suspended Nestler’s award.

Four months later, Nestler now has her Leibniz, along with the €2.5 million in prize money. This week, the DFG — which awards the Leibniz — announced that it had given Nestler her prize on July 4, during its annual meeting, after determining the accusations were without merit.

Secretary General of the DFG and Chair of the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct Dorothee Dzwonnek said in a statement:

The allegations against Ms. Nestler, which were made anonymously and at very short notice, had to be thoroughly investigated. So in the spring we had no other option than to suspend the presentation of the Leibniz Prize. Although this was a very difficult decision, it was in the best interests of Ms. Nestler, the DFG and the Leibniz Prize. We then worked hard to investigate all aspects of the allegations, gave Ms. Nestler an ample hearing and also engaged an external reviewer, before finally the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct addressed the matter. This thorough investigation revealed no evidence of scientific misconduct on the part of Ms. Nestler. So the DFG is now able, with great pleasure, to present her with the Leibniz Prize.

We contacted Nestler, based at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and will update if she responds.

Here is a list of the other recipients of the 2017 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz prize, which the DFG calls Germany’s “most important research funding prize.”

This month, the DFG also announced that a first-time applicant for research funds had committed plagiarism. The announcement (in German) does not name the scientist, but says they are in the life sciences. According to our Google Translate of the announcement, the DFG committee that investigates misconduct issued a “written complaint” against the scientist.

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2 thoughts on “Leibniz Prize belatedly awarded to scientist cleared of misconduct”

  1. It’s no fun to be falsely accused of scientific misconduct.

    I know this full well from personal experience. In my own case the charges came from the “best friend” of the author of a paper that I have been attempting to get corrected for five years.

    What better way to disqualify a whistleblower that to pin misconduct on them?

    I suspect there is more to this story.

    Congratulations to Dr Nestler!

  2. As a long time financial investigator it has been my considerable experience that most anonymous tips dealing with contests, awards, promotion (anything tied to a specific event) are hit pieces – and wholly without merit. The reasons for the attack can vary, from jealousy, anger, retribution or from some slight either real or imagined. I have even seen these attacks spill over into wholly fictitious attacks on Wikipedia.

    My 2 cents would be in the future to award the prize, and to withhold payment in private while any investigation is conducted. The DFG unwittingly did the attacker’s bidding and got what they wanted – bad publicity for Ms. Nestler. I am certain the notice of her being excluded has eclipsed the belated award.

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