(Vienna, APA, 22nd January 2013) No university nowadays can operate without guidelines for good scientific practice. The guidelines from the Medical University of Vienna date “from 2001, when we were still a faculty of the University of Vienna”, explained Christiane Druml, the MedUni’s Vice Rector, to the APA. This, coupled with the fact that a lot has changed in this field over the years, is the reason behind a revision of the guidelines, which were unveiled today, Tuesday.
In his foreword to the new set of guidelines, MedUni Rector Wolfgang Schütz makes reference to the rising number of scientific failures and misdemeanours that have occurred internationally over recent years. “Accusations of scientific malpractice – be they justified or not – are generally a tremendous burden on the people involved and have the potential to damage the university's reputation.” For this reason, the guidelines have been updated, providing all employees with clear information regarding which rules must be complied with and what the consequences could be of scientific malpractice.
Examples of scientific malpractice given include “the fabrication of data, the falsification and manipulation of data and theft of intellectual property (plagiarism)”. The exact definitions of these are also provided in the guidelines. The legal process and consequences of scientific malpractice are also set out in detail. The underlying principle is quoted as being not only the “protection of an individual suspected of being guilty of malpractice”, but also the protection of the individual who reports the malpractice, also known as the “whistleblower”.
Other rules relate, for example, to the scientists’ responsibility for their work, the documentation of clinical and scientific projects, the handling of study data, animal experiments, the naming of authors in scientific publications and collaboration with the industry.
Druml was unwilling to say whether the new rules are tougher than the previous ones. A lot has changed, however, in recent years. Whereas in the past confidentiality was often of primary importance in clinical studies, today correct transparency is top priority.
The guidelines are intended to assist individual researchers and help them assert their rights too, for example in relation to the issue of honorary authorship (explanatory note: the citation of supervisors in publications even though they have not contributed to the work), says Druml. “The set of regulations will ensure that all employees will know which rights and obligations are incumbent upon them and others, and that the general public can rely on the fact that research at the MedUni is being carried out in a transparent and methodical manner that complies with international standards,” explained the Vice Rector.
In order to anchor the new rules more firmly in people’s minds, Druml says that the MedUni is planning various events on the subject of good scientific practice over the next few months both for scientists at the university and for other research institutions.