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Study reveals extent of misconduct in the Netherlands

A major survey of scientific integrity at universities and research institutions in the Netherlands produced worrying results: more than half of the researchers who participated admitted to regularly engaging in questionable practices, such as omitting research design flaws or selectively citing the scientific literature to support their findings and convictions. Some 8% said they had falsified or fabricated research results in the last three years—which is considered serious misconduct.

Twice as much data was obtained as previous studies have managed. “We have good reason to believe that our outcome is closer to reality,” epidemiologist Gowri Gopalakrishna, the University of Amsterdam researcher who designed the survey, told the journal Science. The organizers took special precautions to preserve the anonymity of the participants in order to ensure the responses were genuine.

Called the “Dutch National Survey on Research Integrity,” the study caused controversy before it was even finished. Roughly 60,000 students and professors from all fields and 22 institutions were invited to answer the questionnaire, but only 6,800 responded. The deans of several institutions refused to cooperate with the survey, claiming that the questions overemphasized issues related to misconduct and could therefore generate biased results. The questionnaire was even expanded to ease their concerns, but the boycott was maintained (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue no. 299). Even so, the number of respondents was higher than previous studies on scientific integrity carried out in the country.

London School of Economics ecologist and researcher Daniele Fanelli, who was not part of the study, told Science that Dutch universities have doubled their efforts to improve scientific integrity since 2011 and that the situation there is probably no more serious than in other countries. “Unfortunately, I tend to agree with this assumption,” says FAPESP scientific director Luiz Eugênio Mello. “Pesquisa FAPESP reports on exactly this topic in an effort to deepen the discussion in Brazil.”