Research integrity

Universities in the Netherlands attach great importance to research integrity and the ethical aspects of scientific and scholarly research. Monitoring and enhancing research integrity is essential to the future of our universities. The Dutch universities strive to ensure that researchers can and do adhere to the standards for good research practices. The universities also take research misconduct very seriously, making every effort to prevent and trace instances of research misconduct. Everyone should be able to trust that scientific and scholarly research meets the necessary standards of integrity.

Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity
On the initiative of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), Associated Applied Research Institutes (TO2 Federation), the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), a committee has recently drawn up a new Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. The Code of Conduct has been adopted by all universities and applies as from 1 October 2018. The Code includes the five principles which form the basis of integrity in research:

  • Honesty
  • Scrupulousness
  • Transparency
  • Independence
  • Responsibility

In the Code, these five principles are further elaborated into 61 standards for good research practices. The Code also contains guidelines for dealing with alleged instances of research misconduct.

Reason for the new Code of Conduct for Research Integrity
The Netherlands Code of Conduct for Academic Practice has been in place since 2004. Because the discussion on research integrity continued on both the national and international level in the intervening years, the boards of the VSNU, KNAW, NWO and NFU set up an advisory committee in 2015 to review the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Academic Practice. In June 2016, this committee recommended that a new Code be drawn up with a revised and improved structure. The advisory report is available here (Dutch only).

Safeguarding research integrity
It is important that researchers can work in an open, safe and inclusive research culture in which they can discuss the standards for good research practices and hold each other accountable for compliance with these standards. Universities also bear a great deal of responsibility in this regard. The Code therefore sets out duties of care for institutions. In fulfilling these duties of care, universities demonstrate that they are responsible for creating a working environment that promotes and safeguards good research practices. This means, for example, that universities should systematically devote attention to correct research methods and approaches in their programmes for students and researchers. Whether or not universities are making sufficient efforts to safeguard research integrity is assessed through measures such as periodic research evaluations. Research integrity is part of the Standard Evaluation Protocol 2015-2021 that is used for these evaluations.

Procedure for research misconduct
If research misconduct is suspected, a complaint can be submitted to the research integrity committee of the university in question. Each university also has at least one confidential counsellor for research integrity, who people can go to for advice if they suspect research misconduct. If a complaint indicates an instance of research misconduct, an investigation will be carried out by an integrity committee. If the complaint is found to be valid, the university's executive board will determine the consequences. If either the complainant or the respondent does not agree with the decision of the integrity committee and the executive board, he or she may refer the matter to the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI). The LOWI will then issue an independent recommendation to the university's executive board. 

Publication of investigated complaints

The VSNU website provides an overview of the investigations into alleged instances of research misconduct. All details in the documents are rendered anonymous, but the VSNU does publish the name of the university. Each report additionally contains a description of the complaint, the investigating committee's recommendation to the university's executive board, and the executive board's decision. If the case has been referred to the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI), a summary of the LOWI's recommendation will be included as well. It is up to the university concerned to determine how it will issue further communications regarding the alleged instance of research misconduct. In any event, the integrity committee reports on all submitted complaints in its annual report.