PhDs at risk for subsequent malpractice — in Germany

Regular readers will know that GallonLetter has frequently been critical of PhDs who use their degree to promote views that are not supported by research within their own area of expertise. Now a court in the state of Baden-Württemberg  has upheld to right of a university to revoke a PhD for scientific misconduct subsequent to, and separate from, the work which led to the award of the PhD.

In this case, in 2004 the University of Konstanz asked a physicist to return the PhD he had been awarded in 1998. The physicist, employed by Bell Laboratories, had been found by his employer to have falsified the results of a string of experiments in the fields of organic and molecular electronics, in which he was employed. Several of the false experimental results had been published in the journals Nature and Science.

The physicist appealed the withdrawal of his PhD to the courts, claiming that the matters for which he had been fired had nothing to do with the quality of the research that had led to the award of his degree. The appeal court upheld revocation of the PhD, stating that “it is essential to protect the trust in indispensable scientific principles such as the authenticity and the documentation of original data and the reproducibility of experimental results.” The Court further ruled that the notion of unworthiness can also be interpreted in the scientific sense and that a doctoral degree holder is recognized as a member of the scientific community. This not only confirms his ability to independently conduct scientific work but is also met with an increased level of trust. The court emphasized that the doctorate degree can only be revoked in the case of serious misconduct, which is the case when research results are falsified.

Further information, in English, at http://www.aktuelles.uni-konstanz.de/en/presseinformationen/2011/99/  and, in German, in the press release from the Court at http://vghmannheim.de/servlet/PB/menu/1271322/index.html?ROOT=1153033

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