[Update 2 July 2013, 6 am CDT: A petition that these requirements be withdrawn.]
The main grant-giving institution in Germany, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), is contemplating a revision of their guidelines for good scientific practice that will make 'academic whistle blowing' a lot more difficult: according to a proposal at the annual meeting of DFG members, henceforth German universities will regard it as a violation of good scientific practice to publish suspicions of malfeasance, if an investigation is under way at the university that employs the researcher under suspicion. Since these guidelines serve at the same time as the German de facto standard for investigating academic misconduct in general, the effect of these new regulations will not be limited to those who must be afraid of sanctions from the DFG, e. g. those that receive grants, review grant applications etc. The proposed change in regulations will affect all academics working at a German university, because the DFG guidelines serve as the countrywide de-facto standard.
If this is not disturbing enough; it is remarkable that the DFG decision-making process was apparently intended to take place behind closed doors. However, the semi-official association of German universities, the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK) published its own revised guidelines, before the DFG could finalize its version and refers explicitly to the DFG proposal (I quote from the English translation of the relevant passage from the HRK website):
To protect ‘whistle blowers’ and those affected, the work of ombudspersons is strictly confidential. Confidentiality cannot be assured if the whistle blower makes their [sic!] suspicions public. In such cases, the whistle blowers themselves often violate the rules of good scientific practice. This also applies to the careless handling of allegations of scientific misconduct and to deliberately making false allegations (see planned supplement to DFG, “Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice”, Recommendation 17 [...]).
It should be noted that the German version does not use the adverb "oft" (=often), but "regelmäßig" - a term of art in German law meaning 'regularly', 'without exception'.
The crucial question in this is how to define 'whistle blowing'. The first indications of plagiarism in the dissertation of the former, disgraced German Federal minister of defense Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg were discovered by the Bremen law professor Andreas Fischer-Lescano and published in a book review. Would he have been obliged under the new rules to report his findings confidentially first and to wait for an imprimatur in order to avoid sanctions for 'violations' of the German rules of proper academic conduct? No one knows exactly yet. After Fischer-Lescano had published his review, zu Guttenberg denied all allegations. Only a more extensive examination by anonymous volunteers, who used a wiki to coordinate their efforts, showed the epic proportions of the case: 63,8 % of the text had been plagiarised, using 135 different sources. Again, would German academics have to fear repercussions because of their contributions to such a public examination of suspicious texts? If a scientist cannot reproduce results of a colleague and has a suspicion of foul play, do the proposed new rules prevent her from seeking publication of her findings, unless malfeasance is proven beyond reasonable doubt? What about emerging open post-publication peer review?
Kant was right in his 'maxim of publicity': "All actions relating to the right of other men are unjust if their maxim is not consistent with publicity". The political maxims of German research administrators are not 'consistent with publicity' in this sense. In particular, findings of academic misconduct are research results. According to the new regulations, it will be left to university ombudspersons and committees whether or not publication of this form of research results is allowed. Such provisions are detrimental to the free exchange of ideas that is the signature of the academy. They create a climate of 'fear, uncertainty, and doubt' and isolate the whistle blower from her potentially strongest ally, the interested public.
One final point: if an ombudsperson finds probable cause for misconduct, a committee takes over. Both the ombudsperson and the committee are located at the university that employs the 'suspect'. An example from our own recent disciplinary history helps us grasp the implications of this rule: A few years ago, Michael J. Dougherty discovered plagiarism in approx. 40 publications by Martin F. Stone (a comprehensive collection of links on this topic can be found on the Web4Ren Forum, the case was also discussed on Newapps. [Disclosure: I once co-edited a volume containing a plagiarized text by Stone]). Stone held two positions at the time: a full-time job at KU Leuven and a visiting position at King's College London. In Leuven, a student newspaper made the matter public, pressuring the dean of the faculty into a statement in which the general attitude of the university was summarized in two sentences: "The whole case was handled discreetly but with due decisiveness. We do not organize any witch hunts here and we do not use public shaming as a punishment." So KU Leuven acknowledged the problem publicly only after the press had been informed. Under the new rules in Germany, this form of whistle blowing, if done by an academic, would be a sanctionable offense. Keeping an investigation of academic misconduct off the public radar -- or simply covering it up -- wouldn't be.
At KCL in 2010, “a spokeswoman said the college had established a panel of senior staff to investigate allegations of plagiarism against a former member of staff from the department of theology. 'This investigation is ongoing and we cannot say more until it is completed,' she added.” (Times Higher Education, 2010). This is exactly how German universities would process accusations of academic misconduct in the future. In the UK, the investigation is apparently still ongoing three years later: to this day, I am not aware that KCL has released any statement acknowledging Stone's plagiarism or taking any final position on his employment. Neither did the KCL philosophy department. But they should have. In 2010, the anonymous KCL spokeswoman characterised Stone as a 'staff member of the theology department'. This was at best misleading: Stone must have been in some way affiliated with the KCL department of philosophy, too. Before the scandal broke, KCL philosophers did not hesitate to include Stone's contributions in their report for the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) ([PDF], [Website URL]). If Google is right, this is the only remaining reference to Stone on the KCL website. All other links to Stone have been purged, even though the department website contains a rubric for 'former faculty'. Apparently, KCL has succeeded in what Leuven had set out to achieve: to handle Stone's plagiarism 'discreetly, but with due decisiveness' and, we should add, without any lasting damage to its reputation.
In general, acknowledgment of academic misconduct only takes place when there is public pressure. Employers often try to whitewash failure and avoid bad PR at all costs. In Germany, those who wish to reap the benefits of the academy without the concomitant nuisance of publicity are about to win.