Universiteit Leiden

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Breach of academic integrity by former employee of Leiden University

A former employee of Leiden University breached academic integrity. This is what the Academic Integrity Committee (CWI) of the University concludes in its advice to the Executive Board of the University on 11 November 2019. The Executive Board has taken various steps.

Confirmed breaches

Four breaches of academic integrity have been confirmed: (1) research with blood samples taken from test subjects without the approval of the Medical Ethical Committee (METC), (2) negligence in listing co-authors, (3) data manipulation, and (4) submitting grant applications with incorrect (incomplete and manipulated) research data. This is according to the CWI in its advice to the Executive Board.

Process

The complaints about suspected breaches were made by the Scientific Director of the Institute of Psychology and three close colleagues of the former employee. The staff of the researcher in question – who was employed as Assistant Professor – felt sufficiently able to report their complaints to the Scientific Director. They thus hoped to help the University and academia in their efforts to self-regulate. These complaints were passed on to the CWI by the Executive Board of the University. The CWI examined the complaints in the light of the Leiden University Regulation on Complaints Regarding Academic Integrity and the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.

Medical treatment without approval

The CWI considers it proven that, in 2016, the accused arranged for blood samples to be collected from test subjects without the required approval of the METC. The blood samples were carried out by qualified persons.

According to the Medical Research Involving Human Subjects Act (Wet medisch-wetenschappelijk onderzoek met mensen; WMO), the prior approval of an METC is required.

The person in question thus breached this act, says the CWI in its advice. ‘Since the purpose of medical-ethical evaluations is to protect test subjects, particularly under perceived pressure from researchers, the CWI heavily criticises the accused for this breach.’

Other breaches

The CWI has also established that the person in question did not do sufficient justice to the contribution of other authors in an edited book. Furthermore, authors were included who had not made a contribution. The CWI also notes that the researcher concerned repeatedly selectively omitted research results in their academic work (data manipulation) and did not report or substantiate this.

In addition, the CWI has established that, in grant applications, the researcher in question repeatedly included the results of experiments that were never carried out. Finally, manipulated results were included in grant applications in order to present the reality in a more favourable light. Grant applications were therefore submitted on the basis of incorrect data.

All these actions contravene academic integrity, the CWI concludes.

Advice to the Executive Board of the University

The CWI advises the Executive Board of Leiden University to withdraw two published scientific articles by the person in question. It also recommends that the relevant authorities (including grant providers and the current employer of the researcher in question) be informed of the academic misconduct. In addition, it advises subjecting all articles by the person in question to further examination for possible breaches of academic integrity. The CWI only examined the publications about which third parties had complained.

Steps

The Executive Board has adopted the advice of the CWI in its entirety and has now confirmed a provisional decision — provisional because the complainants and those involved have six weeks in which to request a second opinion from the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI).

The parties involved have already been informed, including the present employer of the researcher in question and other stakeholders. Furthermore, the University will, in the shortest possible term, install a committee to investigate possible breaches of academic integrity in all academic articles by the former member of staff in the period in which they were associated with Leiden University, and the work that relates to this period.

The University has informed the Health and Youth Care Inspectorate (IGJ) that research was conducted with test subjects without the prior permission of the METC. The IGJ may therefore decide to prosecute. 

Finally, the University will investigate how its internal reporting system functioned and which lessons can be learned from this case.

Media questions

For media questions about or as a result of this message you can also contact the spokespersons outside office hours:

R.m.m.merkx@bb.leidenuniv.nl
C.van.overbeeke@bb.leidenuniv.nl

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