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Is the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity too broad?

To discuss this question, chairmen, members, and secretaries of the Research Integrity Committees (Commissies Wetenschappelijke Integriteit, CWI) of almost all Dutch universities gathered at the Leiden Observatory on 21 April. Also present were members of the committees from Leuven, Brussels, Ghent, and Hasselt, as well as representatives of the National Board of Research Integrity (LOWI) and the Flemish Committee of Research Integrity (VCWI), which in the Netherlands and Flanders, respectively, can give a ‘second opinion’ on a recommendation issued by a CWI if requested.

The meeting was organised by the Leiden CWI and led by both chairs of that committee, Dr Yvonne Erkens and Professor Frits Rosendaal. Research Integrity Committees investigate complaints about scientific misconduct by researchers on the basis of the Research Integrity Code (the Code is in Dutch), which was last revised in 2018 and expanded from earlier versions. 

The recurring theme of the symposium was the question of how broad scientific practice is in light of the Code. The CWIs are receiving increasingly more complaints for reasons other than honest scientific practice due to, for example, political reasons, differences in ideals, or simply due to disagreements or arguments.

Professor Paul van der Heijden, former Rector Magnificus from Leiden University, discussed how a code that is interpreted too broadly can interfere with academic freedom. Professor Jan Abbink, African Studies Centre, gave an introduction on politically motivated complaints, after which Professor Gert Storms and Dr Bert Seeghers explained how the committees in Flanders handle complaints about scientific integrity using a number of cases.

The conclusion was that the 61 rules of conduct under the Dutch Code allow complaints that should not be classified as breaches of scientific integrity to be filed with a CWI after all. This fact will have to play a role in the upcoming 2018 review of the Code. Against this background, perhaps the Belgian example is worth following: no national code, but henceforth working with the ALLEA Code, the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.

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