IMPRS-gBGC course 'Rules of good scientific practice' 2018

Category: Transferable skills
Credit points: 0.2


1.  General information

Date: January 19, 2018
Time: We will start at 9.00 am and end in the early afternoon.
Place: B0.002, MPI for Biogeochemistry, Jena

During the course, Henrik Hartmann will provide some background knowledge. Be prepared to get involved into a joint exploration good and bad scientific practice – and the grey area in between.
Since good scientific conduct is crucial for your own research activities and interactions between the scientific community and society at large all IMPRS members should deal with these issues and participate in one workshop like this.


2.  Course description

Rules of good scientific practice – why and how to do honest research Good scientific practice is based on honesty and should promote public trust in scientific findings. While it can be assumed that most scientists are honest by intention, there are several sources of scientific misconduct. Lack of care applied to the scientific method but also deliberate fraud are examples of violation of good scientific practices. These violations, whether intentional or not, can spoil the public’s perception of scientific research and can cause major damages to science and – even more important – to society.

This course builds on the Max Planck Society’s ‘Rules of good scientific practice’ ( --> Good Practice <--), the ‘Rules of procedure in cases of suspected scientific misconduct’ ( --> Misconduct <--) as well as the 'Guidelines and rules on a responsible approach to freedom of research and research risks' ( --> Freedom & Risks <--). During the lecture, we will discover the Society’s ruling of good scientific practices, consider the ethical aspects of research and learn how to proceed in cases of suspected scientific misconduct.

Furthermore, the course will elaborate several aspects of scientific tasks that are particularly important to early-career scientists. Researchers will have insights into the peer reviewing process and will be shown how to do a good peer review. They will discover the dangers of plagiarism and learn how to avoid these by applying adequate acknowledgement and citation. Moreover, we will examine the structure of manuscripts and show what information must be given in each of its sections. General editing rules for manuscript improvement will also be part of the course. Last but not least, we will have a quick look at statistical issues by highlighting the limitations of traditional null hypothesis testing (NHT) and give details on one of several alternatives to NHT, namely information-theory based multi-model inference.


3.  Objectives

The course is a project-based application of the rules of good scientific conduct. Researchers will learn how to avoid potential pitfalls in scientific conduct by understanding the psychological mechanisms that could predispose them to misconduct. Based on a real-world example (see below), researchers will analytically describe the history of events. What happened and why? What rules have been infringed? PhD researchers will develop a written conceptual essay on how these misconducts could have been prevented. The essay should draw on (but may not necessarily be limited to) a selection of literature (see below) which encompasses several aspects of scientific conduct. Among these are psychological and ethical aspects, but also technical issues like data acquisition, storage and processing as well as statistical, publication and media issues.


4.  Requirements

4.1  Before the course

  • Form an idea of what is good and bad scientific practice.
  • Think about how to differentiate between the two.
  • Bring an example of bad scientific conduct to the seminar.

4.2  After the seminar

  • Write an analysis of a known case of scientific misconduct: either based on the suggestion that Henrik presents during the seminar or a topic of your choice (best discuss this with Henrik first).

5.  Evaluation

Participants will be evaluated and credited according to the effort they put into their essay. Evaluation criteria are:

  1. Have all events of misconducts as well as their source (e.g., conflict of interest, lack of openness to criticism) been properly identified?
  2. Are the suggestions for avoiding misconducts based on a thorough understanding of the related concepts/literature?
  3. Are the suggestions conclusive?
  4. Was information/literature used beyond the one suggested?
  5. Have new ideas been brought into discussion?
  6. Formal presentation of the essay (content, structure, linguistic quality, logical flow etc.).

Participants will have a three-week period for writing the essay (5-10 pages). Further information will be given during the lecture. The credits you can obtain for participating in this seminar range from 0.2 for mere attendance to 1.0 for submission of a good essay.


6.  Suggested literature

Our working example is the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) scandal that has been triggered off in 1998 by an observational study of children suffering from some sort of autistic behavior. Because most of these children had received a MMR vaccination shortly before the onset of behavioral symptoms, the authors suggested (and pathologically explain) a possible link between MMR and autism. The findings of the study were heavily exploited by the media and led to a major health crisis in the UK. Over the past 12 years, the main author and its research were under tight scrutiny by an investigative journalist and the British General Medical Council. Their findings reveal one of the biggest scandals in medical research...

The MMR scandal - background

The MMR scandal - history and consequences

Science in trouble - scientists behaving badly and the role of media

Psychological and ethical aspects of science

Peer review process

Writing scientific articles

Methodological and statistical issues
Data dredging:

Experimental design & data analysis:

Recent paradigms in model selection and inference


7.  Feedback

The survey results are presented here. 10 out of 18 participants filled in the survey. Statistics and statements should not be taken as an exhaustive or exclusive list.

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