Country Report Austria

National Research Integrity Landscape

Austria has a national agency on research integrity including a Commission for Research Integrity.

The investigation of research misconduct lies in the autonomy of the universities or research institutions, which have individually developed their instruments in recent years. The national agency with the Commission for Research Integrity complements this system. Any individual who is affected by research misconduct connected to Austria is free to submit inquiries to the local bodies or to the national agency. Furthermore, the commission will work for member organizations of the association and advises them in all matters of research integrity, in particular in cases of suspected research misconduct.

OeAWI

In December 2008, a national (institutional) structure for research integrity was voluntarily and jointly established, the Austrian Agency for Research Integrity (OeAWI), by 12 Austrian universities, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF), Institute of Science and Technology (IST), Austria and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). It was established as a non-profit association with a (a) General Assembly (b) Board (c) Commission for Research Integrity, supported by an Administrative Office. The OeAWI is authorized to admit other (public and private) research institutions as member. At present, the OeAWI has 40 member organisations including its founders. It is financed by membership fees.

Assessment framework

The OeAWI is governed by OeAWI’s Statutes, OeAWI’s Rules of Procedure for its Commission for Research Integrity, and OeAWI’s Guidelines for Good Scientific Practice.

Mission(s) and tasks

OeAWI’s main missions are to (i) raise awareness and prevent resarch misconduct (ii) promote research integrity e.g. by lectures and workshops, and (iii) provide a neutral and factual platform for investigating cases of research misconduct. It can also give general procedural advice to (non) member organisations and guidance in matters to member organisations.

Commission for Research Integrity

Authority

The Commission for Research Integrity (the Commission) is the only organ within the OeAWI that is authorized to investigate, to give opinions and to mediate in alleged cases of research misconduct. The Commission started its work in June 2009 and is independent of all other organs within the association or (non) member organisations.

Composition

The Commission consists of 8 members: 7 international research integrity experts come from outside the country – herewith underlining its independency – and 1 comes from Austria with expertise of Austrian Law, who in contrary to the other members has no voting rights. The Commission’s members must represent the disciplines of humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and technology, life sciences, medicine and law. All are nominated and appointed by OeAWI’s Board for a 2-years-term to a maximum of 6 years.

Scope and remit

The scope of the Commission is nationwide. It can investigate research misconduct within member and non-member (public and private) research institutions in Austria. The Commission, too,  can start an investigation on research misconduct on its own initiative in member and non-member organisations in Austria. The Commission’s remit i.e. its investigatory and opinion-making authority is not restricted to cases in first instance as it can also give opinions in second instance. (1) In first instance, the Commission can be called upon by (any one from) a member organisation, but also by any physical person who is affected by research misconduct with a connection to Austria. The foregoing means that (any one from) a member organisation, but also (any one from) a non-member organisation (in- and outside Austria) can call upon the Commission. The case itself, though, must have a connection with Austria. The Commission is not obligated to handle requests of (any one from a) non-member organisation, but in general it will do so in cases of severe and founded allegations of research misconduct with a connection to Austria. The Commission may handle anonymous requests. The Commission will not handle alleged research misconduct cases of students on bachelor – or master level.  (2) In second instance, the reporter or accused in first instance, disagreeing with the decision of the local research institution can ask the Commission for an opinion.

Procedure

The Commission starts with a preliminary review of competence. When it considers itself competent, it assigns the case to the member whose area of expertise is most closely related to the case. This leading member first obtains opinions, statements and/or additional documentation from the individuals involved. If a sufficient assessment of the facts is not possible on the basis of the materials submitted, the Commission may hold a hearing with the parties involved and also may obtain expert opinions. Upon completion of the investigation, the leading member shall compose a summary opinion, to be presented to the other members for approval. The Commission’s hearings are not public. During the Commission’s procedure, everyone involved has a duty of confidentiality.

Definition of research misconduct

For the Commission, in concluding whether there is research misconduct, OeAWI’s Guidelines for Good Scientific Practice are decisive together with, if any, the more detailed guidelines of the research institution. Under OeAWI’s Guidelines for Good Scientific Practice, research misconduct refers to wilful, conscious or grossly negligent violation of the Standards of Good Scientific Practice, including fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, unjustified refusal to data, damaging the reputation of another researcher, sabotaging research activities, providing inaccurate information in a grant proposal, retaliation against a whistleblower and involvement in one other researcher’s research misconduct. The alleged research misconduct in principle must have occurred in the past 10 years. Exceptions are possible, e.g. in plagiarism cases. Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences in opinions.

Opinions and appeal

The Commission cannot impose sanctions. The Commission is not bound by time limits in writing its opinion. It sends its opinions to the person who or institution which called upon the Commission if that person or institution is directly affected by the allegations submitted, and to the person(s) to whom the allegations referred. In all cases, opinions on severe cases of research misconduct must be conveyed to the member institution(s) where the misconduct was said to have taken place. The opinions of the Commission are non-binding. Appeal from the Commission’s opinions is not possible.

Follow-up and monitoring

In light of harmonisation and with the purpose of having an overview of research misconduct cases in Austria, the Commission requests member organisations to report (severe) cases to the Commission. The latter is not authorized to impose sanctions. Only research institutions are authorized to do so. Hence, the monitoring of measures taken against the alleged person(s) takes place by the research institution in question.

Transparency

The OeAWI annually publishes its activities in an Activity Report. The Commission publishes its opinions in anonymised and summarized form in its own annual reports, which are published on OeAWI’s website in the German and English language.

 

For illustrative cases in English, see: https://www.nature.com/articles/
For further information, see: www.oeawi.at
For questions, e-mail to: Nicole Foeger, Head of OeAWI’s Administrative Office (nicole.foeger@oeawi.at)

 

Last update: May 2019