Error Culture in Science

At the NFDI4Chem Consortium Meeting 3.0, October in Hannover a panel discussion was held on cultural change and error culture.

This addresses an important fact: researchers are afraid of publishing their data „because others may discover mistakes in their data or research which in turn could detrimentally impact their career.“ This underlines the absence of a systematic approach to dealing with errors in academia. High Risk Organisations have already implemented an error culture, so they can easily find and fix problems, as Joachim Richert (BASF) said: „The industry is working with errors. This is part of our quality management.“

The goal of the panel discussion was to create in a microcosm the kind of discussions we want to see being held more openly within the wider academic community. Therefore, it was essential that important stakeholder groups were represented. The industrial point of view was represented by Joachim Richert (BASF), academic researchers by Sonja Herres-Pawlis (RTWH-Aachen University), the NFDI by Cord Wiljes, NFDI4Chem by John Jolliffe who also moderated the discussion, IUPAC by Leah McEwen and publishers by Laura Woodward-Heni (Wiley-VCH). We felt it was also very important to have a perspective from a psychosocial point of view and therefore we were very fortunate to have psychologist Maximilian Frank (LMU) join the discussion.

The opening main question to the participating scientists was, what kind of change in approach to dealing with errors and scientific practices would they like to see?

A first consideration from Joachim Richert was to motivate scientists to use open data despite the lack of an error culture: “We should look at an incentive such as a citation index, for instance the reuse of your data.” The discussion brought up several possible directions. One was how to reduce errors in the first place. In terms of data, this could for example be achieved by automated quality control of data. 

Importantly, during the discussion it was asked why poor error cultures exist in the first place in academia. The psychologist of the panel discussion, Maximilian Frank (LMU), said: „This also is a question of good leadership.“ In industry, leadership qualities are selected for and further nurtured, whereas in academia little to no leadership training takes place. Furthermore, a culture of publish or perish has led to good research practice not always being adhered to and that the pressures of publish or perish and poor error cultures within academic working groups and academia as a whole are clearly linked.

Following the opening questions it was asked: ”How as a community can we better deal with errors. E.g. that retractions are no longer feared as potential career-enders by early career researchers?” Laura Woodward-Heni (Wiley-VCH) provided some very valuable insights: “The purpose of a retraction is not to punish anybody but to correct the scientific record”. She noted that it was important to distinguish between retractions where the intentions of the authors were honest and ethical and retractions due to deliberate ethical misconduct. To remove the fear about retractions a more open discussion within the community about retractions is needed. The majority of retractions are really just due to honest errors. If more academics shared their experiences with retractions and talked about these openly, other researchers would be able to see these are not necessarily career enders.

During the course of the panel discussion various points were brought up that are worth highlighting here.

Cord Wiljes (NFDI-GS) pointed out that in the end, open data is not only a threat, but delivers a chance as well: “Open data helps to find errors. And there are different levels of errors. And there are errors that help to advance science.” 

All panellists agreed on Good Research Practice (GRP) having to be more prevalent in undergraduate curricula and guidelines for postgraduates. If GRP was seen as an unquestionable code of honour, fewer questionable research practices would take place that might be holding people back from publishing their data (as these would then become apparent). 

Leah McEwen (IUPAC) said that the positive impact of data needs to be better demonstrated and remove the artificial separation that largely exists between data producers and -reusers. 

The panel discussion was closed with the following thoughts. These are all complex issues that will not be fixed overnight. Especially the pressures that arise from the publish or perish paradigm. It is incredibly important that awareness is raised for this topic to get people talking about it so that the community more openly acknowledges that we have a problem. Therefore, the NFDI will continuously raise awareness for these issues but we also invite each and everyone of you to discuss the topic more openly with your peers. Furthermore, an interdisciplinary working group within the NFDI on error cultures has been created as these are not issues just limited to chemistry. As well as raising awareness and reaching out to the community, the working group aims to develop guidelines for how academic research groups might establish better error cultures.

Reaching out!

NFDI4Chem has been busy in the latter half of the year visiting many events such as conferences. Here, important connections for NFDI4Chem with key organisations were established.

Most importantly, it enabled us to reach out and connect with the academic community to provide information on NFDI4Chem, its offers and services as well as listening to the requirements and suggestions of the researchers. For many this was the first contact with NFDI4Chem. Following the plethora of conferences visited in September, we received multiple requests for introductory talks on NFDI4Chem and we have been giving these steadily since! In this 45 minute talk, we give an introduction on the NFDI and NFDI4Chem, why RDM is important and the free tools, services and training opportunities NFDI4Chem offers that researchers can benefit today to supplement their research data management. We always like to leave a little more room for questions as this is a complex issue commonly associated with many misunderstandings and reservations. Are you interested in NFDI4Chem giving an introductory talk at your institution? Contact to book a talk.

NFDI4Chem RDM Workshop in Liverpool, UK

Research Data Management is not just a national effort. The lack of data publication is an issue researchers face from all around the globe. Therefore, it is important that we grow our international network, see different points of views so that the tools, solutions, and standards we develop apply and are accepted internationally.

In the spirit of international cooperation, NFDI4Chem held a 1-day online crash-course on research data management in Chemistry at the University of Liverpool (United Kingdom) in July. Here, we worked together with the local research data management representatives to create a bespoke workshop for Liverpool which would clearly highlight to the participants the local representatives, tools, resources, and regulations for research data management. The workshop was very well received by those who took part. For us it was also fascinating to gain a deeper insight into funder requirements with respect to research data management from a non-German perspective.

FAIR4Chem Award Winners

And the winner is… 

FAIR datasets are indeed feasible in chemistry, because where there’s a will, there’s a way. Of all datasets submitted for the FAIR4Chem Award 2022, two proved this is absolutely the case!

The FAIR4Chem Award 2022 honours the datasets of

Niels Krausch and Robert T. Giessmann: Collection of UV/Vis spectra acquired while monitoring reaction progress of thymidine phosphorolysis with varying reactant concentrations (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3243352)


Christopher Kessler et al.: Supplementary material for ‘Adsorption of Light Gases in Covalent Organic Frameworks: Comparison of Classical Density Functional Theory and Grand Canonical Monte Carlo Simulations’ (DOI: 10.18419/darus-1775)

Congratulations to the winners!

We look forward to presenting the award to the winners at the JCF Frühjahrssymposium 2022 in Hannover.

Workshop Series – FAIR RDM: Basics for Chemists

To achieve NFDI4Chem’s goal of ensuring that good research data management (RDM) will become second nature to chemists, it is essential that we provide appropriate training opportunities to the community to support them in making their research data FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable & reusable). To this end we are excited to inform you about a new NFDI4Chem Workshop series starting in 2022: FAIR Research Data Management: Basics for Chemists.

In this two-day course we will take you through the basics of RDM while applying these to a chemistry context. These basic concepts, principles, and more will not only be taught theoretically, but with additional interactive elements involving individual and group work.

The workshop´s objectives are that you

  • can apply the concepts of metadata and data organisation in chemistry.
  • can apply data documentation with a Data Management Plan and get to know some electronic lab notebooks.
  • make the FAIR principles applicable to your chemical research.
  • understand the importance of standards and persistent identifiers.
  • know the terms storage, backup, archiving, and publication and are able to independently search for new chemical repositories.
  • know the services and the supporting infrastructure of your university.

On the one hand, we will hold regular open workshops (in English) that will take place online so that participants from all over Germany can take part on the following dates:

#Day 1Day 2

Sign up for the open workshop here.

On the other hand, we will also carry out workshops at individual institutions upon request, in which we will work together with local research data management officers to address local specifics, requirements, offers, and services, in particular. These workshops can be held online or in person, as required, and in German or English.

The workshops are designed for 20 people and a period of 2 days, 4-6 hours each day.

If your institution is interested in NFDI4Chem holding a bespoke workshop for your institution or if you have any other questions regarding the workshop, contact us via

Launch of NFDI4Chem Knowledge Base

Are you confronted with research data management in chemistry and are feeling lost?

NFDI4Chem is proud to announce the launch of its knowledge base.

We were so impressed by Elixir-Converge’s RDMKit that we adopted its architecture as a starting point. You can enter the knowledge base via different points of entry. Choose your role (e.g. group leader, student) to find out what topics are particularly relevant to you. Entry via your specific sub-discipline of chemistry such as synthetic organic or inorganic chemistry will give you key information on the analytical methods used for your sub-discipline and how to deal with the data they produce in a FAIR (Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable) way.

Each point of entry will help you navigate the knowledge base’s articles on research data management topics which have been specifically adapted to a chemistry context. A selection of articles found in the knowledge base are: metadata, ontologies, machine readable chemical structure, data management plans, and many more.

We have dedicated a whole section of articles to handling data—how you can best organise, document, store, and publish data. Furthermore, you can access templates we have developed via the knowledge base (such as data availability statements).

The articles are all curated in a GitHub repository and everyone is welcome to contribute to the knowledge base. All articles so far have been authored by an appropriate expert and subsequently reviewed by our editorial team.

Should you wish to author a new article or contribute to an existing one, please get in touch with us via