- 1 General remarks
- 2 Practice committees at Danish universities
- 3 Research ethics committess
- 4 Named Persons
- 5 Whistle-blowers
- 6 Teaching, training and supervision
According to section 2 of the University Act, universities must among other things safeguard and uphold research ethics. This is done partly through providing information and education, and partly through the handling of specific cases where a breach of good scientific practice is suspected.
According to section 19 of the Act on Research Misconduct, etc., which entered into force on 1 July 2017, all Danish research institutions must deal with cases of questionable research practice, i.e. “breach of generally accepted standards for responsible research practice, including the standards contained in the Danish Code of Integrity in Research and other applicable institutional, national and international practices and guidelines for integrity in research.” This task may be solved by the individual research institution alone, or jointly by several research institutions, or with the use of external expertise. The individual research institutions must publish guidelines for the treatment of cases of questionable research practice on the institution’s website, cf. section 20 of the Act.
The Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2014) contains (p. 19 ff.) a series of recommendations for a fundamental institutional platform for handling suspected violations of good scientific practice.
Some research institutions have set up special internal bodies (”practice committees”) to carry out preventive and ongoing work to ensure compliance with good scientific practices. The mandate of these practice committees depends on the rules laid down for their business. The existing practice committees at Danish universities are listed under item 2.
Research involving human subjects raises some specific ethical issues with regard to the responsibility of the research. In this connection, a number of journals, research funds, etc., require an expert assessment to be undertaken of the ethical aspects of the research. For this purpose, institutional review boards/research ethics committees have been established at several Danish universities in recent years. This is discussed in more detail below, in section 3.
Some research institutions have designated persons (named persons) to support good scientific practice at the institution in question. This is discussed in more detail in section 4.
The introduction of whistle-blower systems at Danish research institutions has been contemplated. This is discussed in more detail in section 5.
Finally, teaching, training and supervision play a major role in good scientific practice, as discussed in section 6.
Practice committees at Danish universities
The UBVA symposium in 2014 included presentations and discussions on the experiences and challenges encountered by practice committees at Danish universities:
The practice committees at the Danish universities are described below.
University of Copenhagen
The Practice Committee of the University of Copenhagen is established by the University’s Rector, and its members are appointed by the academic councils of the faculties. The Practice Committee acts as an independent body.
The Practice Committee of the University of Copenhagen is charged with (1) helping to clarify the existing standards for good scientific practice, (2) initiating discussions on the standards for good scientific practice, and (3) making recommendations on specific cases involving good scientific practice that do not involve research misconduct. The Practice Committee may also propose rules and guidelines on good scientific practice. For details, see Sections 5-8 of the University of Copenhagen’s rules on good scientific practice.
The Practice Committee of the University of Copenhagen is also tasked with determining whether reports received by the Practice Committee relate to questionable research practice or to research misconduct. The Practice Committee has compiled a special form for the submission of complaints.
For further information about the Practice Committee, see the Practice Committee’s website.
Aarhus University has established the Committee for Responsible Conduct of Research pursuant to Aarhus Universitets regelsæt til håndtering af videnskabelig uredelighed og tvivlsom forskningspraksis ved Aarhus Universitet, (‘Aarhus University’s code for dealing with research misconduct and questionable research practice at Aarhus University’), which entered into force on 15 November 2017.
The Committee has the following tasks, cf. section 7 (1):
- To forward reports of research misconduct to the Danish Committee on Research Misconduct and to assist the Committee in its work, cf. Chapter 3, and pursuant to the Act on Research Misconduct.
- To consider reports of questionable research practices, cf. Chapter 4.
- To address cases of pressure on research freedom, cf. Chapter 5.
- To initiate, together with the faculties’ advisers on responsible research practice and research freedom, an ongoing discussion at Aarhus University on the guidelines for responsible research practice and freedom of research at Aarhus University.
- To compile an annual summary report on the cases that the committee has dealt with for the Danish Committee on Research Misconduct.
This report is included in the University’s overall report on research integrity, research freedom and responsible research practice, and is issued to the academic councils, the faculties’ liaison committees, the Committee for Research and External Collaboration, the University’s management and the University Board.
The Committee may take up cases on its own initiative or at the request of the Rector, cf. section 7 (2) of the rules.
University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
For details about the Practice Committee at the University of Southern Denmark, please refer to:
- The Practice Committee at the University of Southern Denmark
Aalborg University (AAU)
For details about the Practice Committee if Aalborg University, please refer to:
Roskilde University (RUC)
In 2013 Roskilde University set up a practice committee and adopted rules on good scientific practice, please refer to:
Research ethics committess
In recent years, several universities have established research ethics committees that serve as institutional review boards. The research ethics committees are charged with assessing the research ethics aspects of research involving human beings, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. They complement the scientific ethics committee system, which was established to assess research projects in health science.
Some examples of research ethics committees at Danish universities are:
University of Copenhagen
- Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Social Sciences
- Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Humanities
Some research institutions have designated persons (‘named persons’), whose task is to support the responsible conduct of research in the various scientific communities.
The University of Copenhagen has introduced such a system on the basis of the so-called UGVP report.
The tasks of the named persons may include the following:
- To inform and provide guidance on the standards of Good Scientific Practice
- To contribute to regular discussions of the standards of good scientific practice in the faculty’s academic environments
- To advise individuals with respect to their specific suspicions of violation of good scientific practice and how to protest such violations, and its consequences
- To respond to specific suspicions of breach of good scientific practice
In this interview, Professor Jørn Dybkjær Hounsgaard outlines his tasks when he was a named person at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen:
At the University of Copenhagen 1-2 named persons have been appointed at each faculty. Their precise spheres of competency and work are defined in faculty-specific rules. For more details regarding some of the different schemes, please refer to:
At Aarhus University, the scheme is regulated in the University’s rules regarding guidance on responsible research practice and freedom of research (2019). The tasks of the advisers are laid down in section 6 of the rules, as follows:
“1) To be available to provide independent and confidential advice to all persons affiliated with Aarhus University, including research groups who have questions about current guidelines for responsible research practice and research freedom, or who are in doubt about whether the standards and guidelines for responsible practice or research freedom are being complied with.
2) To contribute to creating an understanding of the special conditions of the various research disciplines, and to be able to advise researchers and research groups who participate in interdisciplinary research collaborations.
3) To remain up to date with current standards and guidelines for research integrity, research freedom and responsible research practice, and to contribute to ensuring that responsible research practice is established and maintained at a high international standard, and that the right of the University and of the researchers to freedom of research is respected.
4) To initiate, together with the Practice Committee, an ongoing discussion at Aarhus University on the guidelines for research integrity, freedom of research and responsible research practice at Aarhus University.
5) To spread awareness of and contribute to the teaching of research integrity, research freedom, responsible research practice and research ethics.
6) To contribute to the University’s overall report on responsible research practice and research freedom by reporting once annually in anonymised form on the nature of the reports received. This report is issued to the academic councils, the faculties’ liaison committees, the Committee for Research and External Collaboration, the University’s management and the University Board.”
The advisers at Aarhus University are independent of the University’s management in their function, cf. section 1 (2) of the rules. The advice given is confidential, but in certain cases the advisers have a duty to report their own operations, cf. section 7 (4) of the rules.
The system of special advisers gives rise to a number of legal considerations, including with regard to confidentiality, access to documents, the obligation to keep records, and compliance with the GDPR. This is particularly relevant if the specially appointed person must be able to take a decision in specific cases, or if the specially appointed person must otherwise take steps in case processing that may lead to such decisions being made. Reference is inter alia made to the report of the good scientific practice committee (UGVP) of the University of Copenhagen.
It may have serious consequences to report others for breach of good scientific practice – even for the person reporting it. As a result, the introduction of a whistle-blower system has been considered – i.e. a system in which you can anonymously report suspicions of breach of good scientific practice. However, such a system gives rise to significant legal concerns which are set out in the UGVP report. See also DCSD’s annual report (2000), p. 19 ff.
The UBVA symposium in 2014 discussed whether whiste-blower and named person schemes were the right way to proceed:
Teaching, training and supervision
In recent years, there has been an increased focus on teaching, training and supervision in good scientific practice, and The Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2014) contains a number of recommendations in this respect. The code stipulates among other things that such teaching, training and supervision should include the following:
- Principles of research integrity
- Responsible conduct of research
- Research misconduct and breaches of responsible conduct of research, including recommendations for responding to suspicions
- Relevant regulations
A basic introduction to this should be included in all Bachelor and Master’s programmes, while training programs for PhD students and postdocs should include specific education and training (including supervision) in research integrity. Finally, heads of research and supervisors should “have specific teaching and training in research integrity to substantiate their mentor roles in order to support a culture that is based on research integrity”.