UM judgement in fraud case complete, but not made public


MAASTRICHT. The Executive Board has taken a decision in the case in which a PhD candidate accused her cardiology professor of research fraud. This was based on the advice from the Committee for Scientific Integrity. The two outcomes will not be made public. The Board says it is maintaining its “duty of confidentiality” that applies to this type of procedure.

Greek PhD candidate Eleni Liapi complained about her supervisor, a cardiology professor, to the Maastricht Committee for Scientific Integrity (Commissie Wetenschappelijke Integriteit (CWI)), in July 2019. The professor allegedly manipulated images and ‘padded’ subsidy applications. After an investigation by the Committee for Scientific Integrity, in the course of which an external expert was also consulted, the Executive Board now follows with its assessment of the accusations based on the advice by the CWI. The latter’s advice should have been completed by December, but only arrived in January. Subsequently, the investigation was reopened because of a new written defence by the professor. The Executive Board underlined the “importance” of this, interim spokesperson Fons Elbersen informed at the time, and requested that the CWI take another look at the case.

The PhD candidate and the professor have by now been informed of the “initial judgement”, as the Executive Board describes it; they are both free to request a second opinion from the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity, (Landelijk Orgaan Wetenschappelijke Integriteit (LOWI)). This functions more or less as a board of appeal, although only in an advisory role. Should it come to it, LOWI – having conducted its own investigation – will send its advice to the Executive Board, which will then provide a final judgement.
The UM will say nothing publicly about the case and refers to LOWI’s and VSNU’s (the association of universities) confidentiality procedures. The duty of confidentiality applies to “everyone who is involved in the procedures around dealing with a complaint,” VSNU states. The same applies after the procedure has been completed. Only after the final judgement has been passed, will an anonymous message be published on LOWI’s and VSNU’s website. “Should the duty of confidentiality be violated, the committee or the Board may take appropriate measures.”

Liapi, at any rate didn’t adhere to this duty, considering her statements and the distribution of documents from the opposing party on her Twitter account among others. On the other hand, CWI has made its own mistakes where it concerns the time taken to deal with the case.
There is a good reason why the Royal Academy of Sciences and Humanities (KNAW), on the occasion of the foundation of LOWI, emphasised in a note that “promptness and confidentiality” needed to be guaranteed, in order to “minimise any damage to reputations as a result of rumours.”

The Executive Board in Leiden, by the way, paid no heed to the duty of confidentiality in the case of a psychologist guilty of scientific fraud. Last November, Leiden University published an article on its news page with the heading ‘Violation of scientific integrity by former employee of Leiden University’ with an extensive report on the “violations found”, advice by the Leiden CWI and the intended measures to be taken by the Executive Board. Observant put the matter to the spokespeople in Leiden – why was everything made public when LOWI still had to be consulted – but a reaction did not arrive in time for publication.

LOWI has recently sent a letter to all universities drawing their attention to the duty of confidentiality in this type of integrity case. LOWI does not want to confirm whether this was because of the case in Leiden, because of “its own duty of confidentiality”, the secretary states.

UM judgement in fraud case complete, but not made public