Country Report Netherlands
National Research Integrity Landscape
The Netherlands have a national institutional structure in the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI) with investigatory and opinion-making authority in research misconduct cases. It serves as a second advisory body only. It leaves the primer responsibility for investigating research misconduct cases with the research institutions where the alleged incident has occurred. All research institutions which are affiliated with the LOWI have a research committee on research integrity, dealing with research misconduct cases. This Committee advises its governing board which takes a (preliminary) decision on the alleged research misconduct after which the dissatisfied party can address to the LOWI. Apart from the LOWI, the Netherlands Research Integrity Network (NRIN) plays an important role in promoting research integrity in the Netherlands. The NRIN aims to facilitate collaboration, exchange and mutual learning between the actors in the field of research integrity. The NRIN does so by organising a diversity of open and closed meetings, and sharing information on its website and in its newsletters.
In May 2003, a national institutional structure for research integrity, the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI), was voluntarily and jointly established by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), including the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU). The LOWI is supported by a Secretariat that is attached to the (KNAW). In 2019, LOWI became a non-profit association in accordance with the Associations Act to underline its independent status. The LOWI is authorized to admit other research institutions as member. At present, the LOWI – next to the KNAW (and its institutes), NWO (and its institutes) and the universities and medical centres working together in the VSNU – has 12 member organisations. It is financed by membership fees. The LOWI is independent of its founders and affiliated member organisations.
The LOWI is governed by LOWI’s Regulations, and the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity 2018. The first Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice 2003, revised in 2012 and 2014, was written by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). In 2018, it was rewritten and signed by all LOWI’s founders, the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences and the Associated Applied Research Institutes. All signatories must apply the Code. This is not the same as falling under the scope of the LOWI: only member organisations of the LOWI fall under LOWI’s scope.
Mission(s) and tasks
LOWI’s mission is to act as a second advisory body only, by giving second opinions in the form of advices to the boards of affiliated research institutions regarding alleged research misconduct. Furthermore – through its secretaries – it can give general procedural advice to (non) member organisations. It does not give or organise trainings. LOWI’s members, however, contribute to knowledge transfer by giving lectures in (inter) national symposia.
The LOWI started its activities with its firstly appointed members in May 2003 in order to execute LOWI’s mission. The LOWI is authorized to investigate and to give second opinions in alleged cases of research misconduct. It does not mediate.
The LOWI consists of 6 (Dutch) members, preferably with backgrounds in natural sciences, humanities, law, social sciences, and behavioural science. The Chair must have a legal background. All members have voting rights. LOWI recommends and appoints its members after consultation with its founders, for a 3-years-term to a maximum of 9 years.
Scope and remit
The scope of the LOWI in handling research misconduct is restricted to its member organisations. The LOWI cannot act on its own initiative in starting an investigation on research misconduct in member or non-member organisations. The remit of the LOWI is restricted in that it serves as a second advisory body only. The LOWI cannot be addressed for a second opinion then after the board of a member organisation has taken a (preliminary) decision in first instance on the alleged science misconduct. Following this board’s (preliminary) decision, the reporter and/or accused in first instance can address to the LOWI. The (board of a) member organisation cannot call upon the LOWI. The LOWI does not handle anonymous requests. It further will not handle alleged research misconduct cases of students on bachelor – or master level.
For a request to be admissible to the LOWI, the request – among others – must be submitted in writing within 6 weeks from the date of the board’s (preliminary) decision of a member organisation on the alleged research misconduct. LOWI starts with a preliminary review of competence. When it considers itself competent, an exchange of documents between the involved parties takes place with the possibility of parties to react in writing. If a sufficient assessment of the facts is not possible on the basis of the materials submitted, the LOWI may order a hearing with the parties involved and also may obtain expert opinions. Upon completion of the investigation, the LOWI shall compose a second opinion. LOWI’s hearings are not public. During LOWI’s procedure everyone involved has a duty of confidentiality.
Definition of research misconduct
For the LOWI, in concluding whether there is research misconduct, the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity of 2018 is decisive together with, if any, the more detailed guidelines of the member organisation in question. National and international codes and regulations can also be taken into consideration. According to the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity of 2018, research misconduct is constituted, in serious cases, in case of non-compliance with one or more standards for good research practices listed in the Code – including additional standards in guidelines of research institutions – on the part of the researcher involved, as well as – when applicable – on the part of the supervisor, principal investigator, research director or manager who incited that non-compliance. The clearest examples mentioned are fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. In cases where non-compliance with the standards does not constitute research misconduct, it may instead be categorised as questionable research practice or in the least serious situations, as a minor shortcoming. 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 of opinions.
(Second) opinions and appeal
LOWI’s second opinions hold a judgment on to which extent the (preliminary) decision of the research institution is (un) founded and the advice to follow its second opinion including eventual recommendations on sanctions and further actions. In judging, the LOWI investigates whether there is a violation of responsible conduct of research and if the procedure has been followed properly according to the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Research Integrity and the more detailed guidelines of the member organisation in question. The LOWI may propose that the local Committee for Research Integrity within the member organisation conducts an additional or new investigation. The LOWI aims to write its second opinion within 6 weeks after the hearing or within 4 months after the request’s submission, with an eventual extension of 2 months. The LOWI addresses its second opinion to the board of the member organisation. A copy is sent to the reporter, the accused and, when applicable, others involved in the procedure, e.g. experts. LOWI’s second opinions are non-binding. Appeal from LOWI’s second opinions is not possible. On the other hand, if the reporter or accused takes the position that the LOWI has not properly considered his or her request, he or she may file a complaint in this respect with the LOWI which – in furtherance of Dutch Administrative Law – will first decide itself whether the complaint is (un)founded. Alternatively, a reporter or accused in LOWI’s procedure can await the final decision of the research institution and consequently follow the legal procedure against the research institution’s final decision under Dutch Administrative Law, referring to (also) the contents of LOWI’s (second) opinion in so far as the board followed LOWI’s advice.
Follow-up and monitoring
In light of harmonisation and with the purpose of having an overview on whether or to which extent LOWI’s second opinions are being followed, its member organisations must send their final decisions to the LOWI. Follow-up and monitoring of sanctions take place by the research institution in question that imposed the sanction.
The LOWI publishes its second opinions on its website in anonymised form, in full and summarized, throughout the year. The member organisations concerned are not anonymised. It also mentions to which extent the member organisation followed LOWI’s second opinion. It annually informs its founders of its work through an Annual Report. In this way, its founders – which are not entitled to have insight in cases or in the full contents of LOWI’s second opinions – keep an overview on LOWI’s work, the number and the nature of research misconduct cases, the procedures according to which cases are being handled, and on the nature of LOWI’s second opinions. LOWI publishes its second opinions and its Annual Report on its website in the Dutch and the English language.
For a landmark case in English, for example, see: Diederik Stapel (www.commissielevelt.nl)
For further information, see: www.lowi.nl/en
For questions, send an e-mail to LOWI’s Secretariat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: May 2019