11

In many questions on this site, I see the suggestion to contact one's university's "ethics board" (or "ethics committee" or similar) to decide in the case of disputes related to research or general ethics. A few examples of many:

It seems that the authors of the respective answers usually take it for granted that the university has such an "ethics board".

I have studied computer science for six years at a German university, and then kept working at another German university for a bit more than five years while getting my doctorate. Especially while working there, I have been heavily involved in teaching, and I was regularly in touch with groups from various other German and also international universities while doing my research. Yet, in my real-life university experience, in no situation have I ever heard of anything remotely reminiscent of an "ethics board".

Therefore, I am interested in the following set of interrelated questions:

  • Do German (or maybe European, in general) universities have anything resembling an "ethics board"?
  • Is there a body that regularly resolves ethical disputes (or is the ethics angle maybe not that focused because German universities also have nothing called "honor code" or an "ethics policy" (which I see mentioned on this site, too) that could be used as an objective basis for deciding in the case of disputes)?
  • Or is all of this nonsense, and it is just that the nomenclature is so radically different that I do not see the analogy to certain boards and offices that I am well acquainted with in the German universities I have been to?
  • 2
    In German universities, who investigates allegations of research misconduct? – ff524 Apr 22 '16 at 18:34
  • @ff524: I am not really sure. I do not know whether there is a formal process of any kind. If, as a doctoral candidate, I had watched something questionable going on, depending on who is involved, I might have tried to discuss the issue directly with the person/persons (if they are other doctoral candidates), or informed my professor about it, who could then bring up the issue in the weekly meeting of all professors in the department. But maybe someone other users on the site have some more concrete information? – K. Arl Apr 22 '16 at 18:42
  • On "ethics policy" in research a relevant term is "gute wissenschafltiche Praxis." You then can find Richtlinien zur Sicherung guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis and so on. – quid Apr 22 '16 at 21:24
  • Weird, why are comments disappearing here? There was an (in my opinion) useful suggestion about looking into reports about previously discovered scientific misconduct among German professors, and another data point about a user's similar Impression about Italian universities, both of which I think added to the topic. – K. Arl Apr 22 '16 at 21:36
  • K. Arl, I deleted my comment about Italian universities because after having read quid's answer I've thought that, with different committee names, represents also the Italian situation, apart the investigations of scientific misconduct. I have to admit that I don't know exactly who investigates cases of research misconduct -- probably directly the university Senate -- and I don't know which kind of action the university can legally take against a faculty found guilty of research misconduct (I've never heard of anyone fired for this, though I know of recent cases of research misconduct). – Massimo Ortolano Apr 22 '16 at 21:59
11

There is the notion of Ethikkommission (searching for it you will find many hits).

However, this is in my understanding mainly concerned with ethical questions related to research activities, in the sense of question whether a particular research activity is legitimate or if there are ethical or moral concerns against it (rather than academic conduct or misconduct). To interact with it is quiet widespread and routine in the life sciences, I think. In other disciplines it is by and large a non-subject. For the second quote you link to it could be relevant.

As far as other subjects go I am not sure if there is a uniform naming or legal regulations, but typically universities will have things like:

  • Datenschutzbeauftragte or a Datenschutzkommission for issues related to handling of personal data and alike.

  • Gleichstellungsbeauftragte or a Kommission fûr Chancengleicheit for questions related to equal opportunities and discrimination.

  • Behindertenbeauftragte for concerns of persons with special needs.

  • Kommission zur Untersuchung von Vorwürfen wissenschaftlichen Fehlverhaltens for investigations of scientific misconduct.

Instead of a Kommission it could also be an Ausschuss, or some other variation.

At a university level such committees are often attached to the Senat, but they can exist on lower levels, too.

  • 2
    The name will vary, but all universities must have an Ombud or committee for investigating scientific misconduct, as stated above. This is specifically for dealing with internal problems. For cross-university problems there is a national ombud: ombudsman-fuer-die-wissenschaft.de – Debora Weber-Wulff May 1 '16 at 20:02
1

Any academic integrity (or general rules of studies) matter concerning students at my previous German Institutions were handled/decided by the Prüfungsamt (office) based on the Prüfungsordnung (document), both being subject specific, the former being composed of faculty and administrative staff.

For simple questions/advice regarding research ethics you discussed with your supervisor. I have not encountered anything like an ethics board during my bachelors and masters studies in Germany. As others commented there might be ethics boards writing general strategy reports but not interfering with student life.

Again, this all is from my limited experience as student only.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.