Country Report Switzerland
National Research Integrity Landscape
In Switzerland there is no national body on research integrity. In this country report a Commission on Research Integrity is described within the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) which is the leading Swiss institution for promoting scientific research. As such, the SNSF has a national outreach when it comes to fostering research integrity. Besides, the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences (SAMW) plays an important role in respect of promoting research integrity for research institutions in Switzerland. In fact, in 2006, the SAMW already established the commission «Scientific Integrity», following (inter) national developments, taking position on general questions related to scientific integrity, and advising research (promoting) institutions and political authorities on fundamental questions related to scientific integrity. Subsequently, in 2008, the SAMW published the brochure «Scientific integrity: principles and rules of procedure» (pdf). Recently, in 2018, it elected a New Expert Group on Scientific Integrity, consisting of 4 members, representing the participating institutions Swiss Academies, Swiss universities and the SNSF. Its task is to renew the principles and procedures in the field of scientific integrity including those of the SAMW related regulations from 2008, taking into account the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, to create common “State of the Art” standards in Switzerland.
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) was established as a private foundation in 1952. The SNSF funds research primarily in Switzerland in all academic disciplines and promotes young scientists in Switzerland. At the end of 2017, it was funding 5,800 projects, involving 16,000 researchers. It consists of the (i) Foundation Council and its Executive Committee (ii) Research Council (iii) Research Commissions at Swiss higher education institutions, and (iv) Administrative Offices. The Research Council is divided into 4 scientific divisions: (I) Humanities and Social Sciences (II) Mathematics, Natural and Engineering Sciences (III) Biology and Medicine, and (IV) Programs. The Commission on Research Integrity was appointed by the Research Council to conduct proceedings in cases of suspected research misconduct in the application procedure or in the use of grants of the SNSF. Besides, the Executive Management of the Administrative Offices appointed the Plagiarism Control Group. It is composed of collaborators of the Administrative Offices who specifically check random selections of applications submitted to the SNSF for cases of plagiarism. The SNSF is financed from the state budget.
Commission on Research Integrity
In 2013, the Commission on Research Integrity was established. Its first members were appointed by the Presiding Board of the National Research Council on 17 September 2013 with effect from 1 October 2013. It was established as a collegial body. It operates independently from the Research Council and other organs of the SNSF .
The Commission on Research Integrity is governed by the Federal Act on the Promotion of Research and Innovation, the Federal Act on Administrative Procedure, the SNSF Regulations of the Commission on Research Integrity, and SNSF Regulations on Scientific Misconduct (Research Integrity Regulations).
Mission(s) and tasks
The primary responsibility of the Commission on Research Integrity is to deal with research integrity cases. Further than that the Commission on Research Integrity discusses policy and procedural matters related to research integrity and the further development of standards for research integrity. It does not organize or give trainings, but the Commission’s members may give individual lectures on the structure and role of the Commission in upholding good scientific practice.
The Commission on Research Integrity is the only organ within the SNSF that is authorized to examine, to give opinions and to eventually mediate in cases of research misconduct (including plagiarism) in connection with applications for SNSF grants or the use of such grants. It may not impose sanctions. Such sanctions are decided by the Presiding Board upon recommendation of the Commission.
The Commission on Research Integrity consists of 15 to 18 (Swiss) member experts, representing the four scientific divisions, the three specialized committees and the legal department of the SNSF. It consists of (I) the Chair (II) 7 Delegates from the divisions and specialized committees of the Research Council (III) 8-9 Members of the Plagiarism Control Group of the Administrative Offices, and (IV) 1 representative of the legal department. All members have voting rights. The chair is appointed by the Presiding Board of the Research Council. The members under II are appointed by their respective division or specialized committee of the Research Council. The members under III are appointed by the Executive Management of the Administrative Offices. The Chair is elected for a 4-years-term to a maximum of 8 years. The members under III are elected for a (maximum) 4-years-term. The members under II are elected for a term that is dependent of the term within the relevant division or specialized committee of the Research Council. Discussion of research misconduct cases, however, takes place in a 4-member constellation only, including one of the members of (I), (II), (III) and (IV). The Commission on Research Integrity is supported by a secretariat.
Scope and remit
The Commission on Research Integrity has the primary responsibility for cases of alleged research misconduct in the application procedure for SNSF grants. If research misconduct occurs in the use of SNSF grants, the investigation and sanctioning is the primary responsibility of the research institution that employs the researcher. However, if the results of the proceedings conducted by the responsible institution are unsatisfactory with regard to aspects relevant to the SNSF the Commission on Research Integrity is authorized to conduct its own proceedings. Before initiating its own proceedings, the Commission will ask for access to the institution’s investigation report and conclusions. Neither institutions nor people involved can ask for an SNSF investigation in the sense of a control instance/right of appeal. The investigatory and opinion-making authority of the Commission on Research Integrity is restricted to applicants, grantees and project partners. Any one from the public in- and outside Switzerland may report an alleged case of misconduct to the Commission on Research Integrity. The Commission can also act on its own initiative in that its member delegates can bring forward allegations they discovered through random checks or during the evaluation. The Commission on Research Integrity may handle anonymous reports if they contain serious allegations.
The enquiry with the Commission on Research Integrity must be submitted in writing. All involved must commit to strict confidentiality. Informers i.e. persons who report scientific misconduct have no party rights. The procedural parties concerned are applicants, grantees, and project partners. In examining a case, the Commission on Research Integrity will first determine the factual basis of suspected cases of research misconduct, followed by an eventual hearing. The Chair decides – after consulting the members if needed – (i) whether there are grounds for suspecting research misconduct and initiating an investigation (ii) whether an investigation should be postponed until the results of the investigation conducted by the relevant institution are available (iii) whether it should opt not to carry out its own proceedings despite grounds for suspicion if the research institution concerned is bringing or has brought proceedings against the suspected party, or (iv) whether it should opt not to conduct its own investigation and rely on the results of the investigation conducted by the institution concerned. In investigating, the Commission may obtain information from affected institutions or persons in Switzerland and abroad. It may also request confidential support from internal or external experts. Decisions of the Commission on Research Integrity require a simple majority: in the event of a tie the Chair has a casting vote. If no research misconduct has occurred, it discontinues the proceedings. If research misconduct has occurred, it submits a report to the Presiding Board of the Research Council, together with a recommendation with regard to (i) the nature and scope of sanctions (ii) whether the decision is to be made public, and (iii) whether the employer institution is to be informed about the decision.
Definition of research misconduct
The following actions, whether intentional or due to negligence, are deemed to constitute research misconduct under the SNSF Regulations on Scientific Misconduct (Research Integrity Regulations) (a) drafting research results and insights gained by third parties under one’s own name (plagiarism) (b) providing information that is false and manipulating data (c) violating the intellectual property rights of others or otherwise compromising their research activity, and (d) breaching the rules of scientific integrity and good scientific practice in some other way. Besides, a non-exhaustive list of different types of research misconduct is to be found in annex I to these Regulations.
Conclusions and appeal
The Commission on Research Integrity bases its judgements on the SNSF Regulations on Scientific Misconduct (Research Integrity Regulations). It is not bound by time limits in writing its resulting opinion, but it ensures that cases are dealt with rapidly. Based on the report of the Commission on Research Integrity, the Presiding Board of the Research Council will make a decision regarding the legal consequences of the proceedings. The findings of the Commission on Research Integrity on research misconduct are binding on the Presiding Board, but it is not obliged to adopt the Commission’s recommendation with regards to sanctioning the person. Hence, the Presiding Board can decide on the sanction i.e. (i) a written reprimand (ii) a written warning (iii) reduction, termination or reclaim of funding, or (iv) exclusion from any further applications for a limited period. The Presiding Board also decides whether the employer institution should be informed. The decision is communicated to the parties concerned by the Presiding Board in the form of an appealable ruling that includes the reasons for the decision. Informers i.e. persons who report scientific misconduct have no right to be informed about the outcome of the proceedings. The decisions of the Presiding Board are appealable before the Federal Administrative Court within 30 days of receiving the decision.
Follow-up and monitoring
Follow-up and monitoring of sanctions is done by the Administrative Office of the SNSF.
The Commission on Research Integrity (and the Plagiarism Control Group) must report on their activities to the Presiding Board of the Research Council. These reports are published on the website of the SNSF. The reports of 2015 and 2017 are in the English language. The report of 2016 in the German language. The Summaries of inquiries into scientific misconduct of 2015 in the French language. In the reports, reference is made to the number and nature of cases and sanctions, in summarized and anonymized form. Additionally, in the absence of any research misconduct, the discontinuation of proceedings must be made public in an appropriate manner by the Commission on Research Integrity at the request of the accused party.
For illustrative cases in English, see: Annual Reports of the Commission on Research Integrity
For further information, see: www.snf.ch
For questions, e-mail to: Claudia Lautenschuetz, Legal Secretariat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: May 2019