A Culture of Constructive Criticism and Learning from Mistakes

  • "A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

    Albert Einstein

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The Problem

Great caution and a high level of planning reduce errors in collaboration, but can also delay important developments. Taking risks is often necessary, even if this frequently leads to errors. Recognizing errors at an early stage and dealing with them in a timely manner offers great potential for process optimization, especially in dynamic workflows. Errors can indicate system limits or (personal) workloads, for example.

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The Solution

Further development in a more dynamic way and the willingness to dare to try new things form an essential prerequisite for its success to date. This flexibility requires an attitude among members at all levels of our institution that actively promotes a willingness to take risks in processes of research and collaboration and, if necessary, to make mistakes in the process.

Thus, the further development of work and research fields requires continuous consideration of whether and when new processes should be initiated and at what speed they should be implemented.

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The Processing

Dealing with mistakes in research and cooperation processes at the University of Bremen should be done constructively and not repressively. This promotes:

  • a willingness to take risks in research,
  • mutual trust and appreciation in cooperation, and
  • a management style in which the processing of errors takes place promptly and in which root cause analysis, transparent communication, and, where relevant, measures to remedy system weaknesses are at the forefront of the error culture.

The processing of errors also plays a central role in the processing of scientific questions. A typical characteristic of research questions is the lack of information, which is adressed with hypotheses and assumptions that are rejected or confirmed, for example. In this context, especially risky, explorative approaches are accompanied by scientific failures. Constructive reappraisal of the failures, for example in the form of modified hypotheses and modified experimental approaches, is an essential part of gaining scientific knowledge.

A Culture of Constructive Criticism at the University of Bremen | Practical Examples

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Predatory Publishing


Numerous German academics have published with so-called pirate publishers, including academics at the University of Bremen. In 2018, such dubious publishing practices in the German academic system were uncovered by various media outlets.


At the University of Bremen, the issue was dealt with in a very open and transparent manner (President on practices of predatory publishers). In order to draw attention to the problem and to avoid further publications by dubious publishers, the following quality assurance measures were introduced:

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Publication Errors


Over the years, the demands on publications have steadily increased. At the same time, the likelihood of making mistakes increases with the sometimes decidedly extensive and data-rich work. For example, incorrect image files or incorrect data sets may be included in publications.


To keep the number of errors low, additional review steps and formats can be implemented. One example is the "Data Integrity Declaration" linked here , which also makes it easier for outsiders to distinguish between errors and negligence.

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Subject-Specific Requirements


The German Research Foundation's Code of Good Research Practice must remain abstract over large sections in order to do justice to the various scientific disciplines. Accordingly, there may be uncertainties concerning subject-specific matters.


As an aid and orientation, individual areas can formulate adapted guidelines that also take into account subject-specific factors. One example is the MARUM Guidelines.