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Scientific integrity

"Scientific integrity is a specific standard of conduct associated with the societal position of the researcher. It is about acting in accordance with the values of science, such as truthfulness, honesty and open reporting, even when no one is looking over the researcher's shoulder." - KNAW (Royal Netherlands Acadamy of Arts and Sciences)(1)

Kunnen jouw onderzoeksdata zichzelf recht in de spiegel aankijken?

 Main points

Scientific integrity is an umbrella term for the standards of conduct a scientist has to abide by. Ensuring that a study can be validated and reproduced is an important consequence of this principle. However, we start at the problematic side. There are roughly three ways to violate scientific integrity:

  • Fabricating.
    Research data fraud. Inventing and faking data. 
  • Falsifying.
    Manipulating or wilfully misinterpreting data, for instance by leaving out negative results. 
  • Plagiarism.
    Stealing other people's work and/or using other people's ideas without acknowledging the source. 

Partly as a result of violations of scientific integrity – in particular the science fraud by Dutch professor Diederik Stapel –the Schuyt committee started working on recommendations to encourage proper scientific conduct by order of the KNAW. In the report 'Responsible research data management and the prevention of scientific misconduct'(1) the KNAW advised on possible improvements in existing data collection practices. The committee:

  • Advocates accessibility of research data.
  • Recommends that organizations organise activities to keep integrity rules alive. 

At the end of 2013, the NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) tightened its  policy for scientific integrity (Dutch).(2)  On starting their research, all researchers have to declare that they are familiar with the Netherlands code of conduct for academic practice by the VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands).(3) In addition, the NWO founded a Scientific Integrity Desk.(4)

At the same time, several movements have arisen from within the research community itself that advocate reproducible research. Science in transition(5) regards scientific functioning in light of the pressure to publish. This group of scientists believe that adapting the scientific system is conditional for e.g. scientific integrity. 

In March 2014, NWO, KNAW and VSNU presented a new evaluation protocol(6) for research. The new protocol emphasises quality instead of productivity. The protocol mentions scientific integrity as follows:

"The assessment committee considers the research unit’s policy on research integrity and the way in which violations of such integrity are prevented. It is interested in how the unit deals with research data, data management and integrity, and in the extent to which an independent and critical pursuit of science is made possible within the unit."

If researchers want to guarantee the principles of proper scientific conduct, certain choices leading up to it have to be ingrained in their research design and data management plan. The planning phase is the appropriate phase to prepare for reproducible research


The Erasmus University Rotterdam developed the ‘dilemma game'(9): a card game with frequently occurring dilemmas and temptations that cause researchers to wander off the path of integrity. This game aims to put professionalism and integrity on the agenda as a subject for dialogue and a work in progress.

   Sources and additional reading

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