Research Data within the New Rules of Conduct for Good Scientific Practice by the Max Planck Society

New rules of Conduct for Good Scientific Practice available

Since the beginning of December 2022 the new document “Responsible Acting in Science: Rules of Conduct for Good Scientific Practice – How to Handle Scientific Misconduct” of the Max Planck Society is available online via

Formally approved by the Senate of the Max Planck Society on 24th June  2021, the 16-page document, in both German and English, newly defines the Society’s rules of conduct for good scientific practice and how to deal with misconduct. A complete rework of the former “Rules of Good Scientific Practice”, issued in 2000 and revised in 2009, the new rules of conduct are binding for all researchers of the Max Planck Society.

Two factors have contributed to the need for a complete reworking of the Society’s rules. From a formal perspective, it was necessary to incorporate the DFG “Guidelines for Safeguarding Good Research Practice”, as their implementation is a prerequisite for approval of DFG grant funding. The DFG code was passed in 2019 but the deadline for implementation was extended due to the corona pandemic, giving German scientific institutions more time to adapt their respective rules of conduct.

From a more professional point of view, many things have changed over the past two decades, and the time was right to adapt and update the Society’s rules in reflection of the experiences gained in processes governed under the previous rules and the many new developments in scientific practice.((Max Planck Society: Responsible Acting in Science – Rules of conduct for good scientific practice – How to handle scientific misconduct, 2022,, p. 7.))

What’s new for research data?

Quality assurance

Research data and relevant software are mentioned in both the old and new rules. If there was not even a separate paragraph in the old rule, the new rule dedicates two full subsections to research data: “2.4 Securing and storing primary data – Documentation and archiving” and “2.7 Accessibility of research data”. There are also other passages in the text where research data are mentioned. The first refers to quality assurance, which is, of course, relevant for research data. The new rules state that “integrity and probability must also be applied to the accessibility of research data and the publication of research findings“.((Ibid., p. 40)) Here, the new and old rules coincide.

Research standards

This is followed by research standards, where the new rules require “identifying the origin of any data, organisms, materials and software used in the research process and providing evidence for their later use.“((Ibid., p. 40)) Here, too, the old and new rules differ only slightly. However, for the first time data and software are explicitly mentioned in the context of reproducibility of science.

Retention of research data

The separate section on “Retention of Research Data” is relatively changed. It now explicitly states that “institute management is expected to provide the usual storage media for the field concerned and to guarantee that information stored.“((Ibid., p. 41)) Suitable framework conditions must therefore be created so that the research data can be adequately stored. The duration of retention periods for research data depends on legal requirements or other factors, but the period is usually ten years, similar to the former specifications.

Local protection options

The following sub-section, which requires the use of local protection options, goes well beyond the old. The new rules state that: “Research Group Leaders and individual researchers are obligated to make use of the protection options provided by Institute Management and retain and store both research data and research results. It does not matter in this context whether the research results are published or not. Even inconclusive results and examinations must be documented.” followed by “results remain readable“.((Ibid., p. 41)) This means that the readability of research data must be guaranteed for ten years.

Discipline-specific research data management

This is followed by the notion that discipline-specific research data management must be ensured, and that “[a]ll Research Group Leaders involved bear joint responsibility for this. As a result, they should initiate organizational and technical measures at the earliest opportunity.”((Ibid., p. 41)) This aspect of research data management was not mentioned in the old rules, and there are some new recommendations as to which aspects of RDM are worth noting. Of course, this varies depending on the discipline.

Long-term archiving

The “Long-term archiving” section on research data is completely new. This is about the reusability of research files “for a very long period”.((Ibid., p. 41)) In this context, from an archival point of view, a long term is far beyond ten years, but it remains unclear how a very long period is to be defined. Following on, long-term archiving is understood more precisely as a process that “starts when the defined retention periods have ended and is restricted to the meaning-full part of the data.”((Ibid., p. 41)) This is decided by the respective research group leaders together with the institute Administration and the MPG Archive. According to the new rules, the Max Planck Archive must, in any case, be assigned a coordinating role with regard to the archiving of research data.

Publicity principle

Under 2.5 “Publicity principle” it is clearly stated that the opportunities for visibility offered with open access publication should be exploited. This does not have to be limited to text publishing and, indeed, can also refer to research data. It is worth mentioning in this context that the new rule now mentions the FAIR principles, although adherence to them is not mandatory.

Personal data

Research with personal data is mentioned in 2.6. This section is significantly expanded compared to the relevant paragraphs in the old rule. Here, the rules of conduct regarding the handling of human research data are specified much more precisely. In addition, it is always useful to consult the website of the Data Protection Officer of the MPG for information relative to personal data.

Data accessibility

Research data should also be made accessible, and Point 2.7 explains how this can best be achieved. First of all, the FAIR principles and publishing in appropriate repositories and archives are recommended. Ultimately, these are not requirements, but if data have not been published and are requested by other researchers, the research data should be made available.

Use and move research data

Section 3.3 on “Authorisation to use and move research data” is completely new. Particularly in the case of larger cooperation projects, the new rule recommends that documented agreements on the rights of use be concluded between all project participants at the earliest possible stage. The aim is to determine and agree upon how the use of the data – and, if necessary, the right to use it – is to be granted to those project participants who have made a substantial contribution to its collection.

And, what does this all mean for me in practical terms?

It means that, in the course of a research project, a scientist has to think about research data throughout the whole research process (e.g. from informed consent, internal regulations, data handling, storage and eventual publication). Overall, this offers the opportunity to have data recognised as a valuable research result.

Of course, the MPDL’s RDM support is available to you as an MPG employee for advice at any time in the context of research data management. Please do not hesitate to contact us via rdm [at] mpdl [dot] mpg [dot] de.