Research and action on scientific fraud and plagiarism
(in alphabetical order by speaker)
Plagiarism, fraud and academic ethics: what tools and bodies should be created… and how?
Pierre-Jean Benghozi, Professor, Ecole polytechnique, ARCEP
In a research environment where the pressure to publish is becoming increasingly intense, where an ever greater flood of papers is being exchanged and circulated, where search engines make it ever easier to trace references, we find ourselves facing more and more cases of plagiarism and fraud of all types: in articles submitted to journals, in conference papers, in theses, in books. This phenomenon concerns students and research professors in all disciplines.
For a long time, the reality of this trickery and true scientific fraud was hidden or minimized. This often led to much remaining unsaid and much suffering going unspoken, but always being present. But in the end, it does not help resolve the problems that are arising more and more frequently with the rise of the Internet and the pressures to publish. The proliferation of cases revealed or observed by the journals makes inaction in this context impossible. The examples from other disciplines show that in the absence of voluntarily adopted policies and collective mechanisms, there is a non-negligible risk of a crisis, at the level of an academic discipline or of major institution.
Cases of fraud are a source of suffering for the vast majority of scientists, who work hard to produce results according to the rules but who find themselves outpaced by their less scrupulous colleagues both in publications and promotions. But there is also sometimes suffering on the part of those who commit the fraud and plagiarize, who can find themselves subject to a public condemnation, out of proportion to their transgression, because they do not know how to acknowledge their mistakes.
In the absence of recognized mediation venues, experience shows that the academic community often finds itself without means for handling situations when they arise: who can handle them, in what context, with what legitimacy, with what right to get involved? This phenomenon will only continue to grow with advancements in information technology, which makes copying easier and improves traceability and the possibility of finding old archived papers.
In such a context, it is often less a question of defining or characterizing fraud and plagiarism practices than it is of formulating proposals for collectively addressing complaints and conflicts, in institutional contexts that cross institutional and national boundaries.
Protocol of assessment and recommendations regarding plagiarism allegations
Michelle Bergadaà, Professor, School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva
Complaints of plagiarism are on the rise, but the victims to do not know how to put together a dossier of evidence or whom to give it to. The existence of a an international and multidisciplinary Institute dedicated to the fight against scientific fraud and plagiarism has become a necessity for assisting them in this process. We will present the framework for handling cases that we have established to assist victims in their efforts to have the wrongs recognized and their request for compensation. After reviewing the cases we have handled over the last five years and analyzing the reasons for their respective successes or failures, we will describe the steps of the protocol for handling the dossiers on which we provide assistance. Our action plan consists of: the complainant agreeing to be assisted, the choice of texts the complainant will focus on, the creation of comparative tables (by the complainant or by experts in the discipline involved) or a parallel comparison matching excerpts from the plagiarist’s text with excerpts from the source texts, the determination of the modes of operation and signs relating to the intentionality of the plagiarist’s attitude, a conclusion with respect to the consequences of the plagiaristic behavior, the method of informing the victims identified and, finally, the formulation of recommendations.
A successful assessment is one that is capable of evaluating the situation and proposing appropriate compensatory measures. In a case where plagiarism is not established but there has been negligence or an ethical breach, we offer to mediate between the parties. Contextualization is then indispensable before being able to propose compensatory measures. As such, accountability in cases of deviant conduct or presumed negligence or complicity are highlighted at this stage. Our recommendations are based in the goals of our assessment methodology, with the final goal being to bring peace to the community. We therefore encourage the administrative and academic authorities to whom the complainant has brought the case via a letter of complaint to take action that is proportional to the plagiarism found, that takes into account the circumstances surrounding the behavior, and that reflects basic principals of equity.
Instituting a policy on research ethics at the level of a research institution
Pierre-Henri Duée, Emeritus director of research, responsible for deontology at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (Paris)
The changes in the environment in which research teams work have brought to light the significance of cooperation, including at the international level, and of the necessarily collective work of research, but they are also the source of pressure, including the pressure caused by the competitive nature of the activities. The need for deontological points of reference has recently become vital in the scientific community.
(1) The drafting of the National Charter for Ethics in Research Activities involved an intense period of reflection, which was based on an analysis of the major texts and codes that exist in the area and a distillation of the basic meaning of the researcher’s mission: the charter sheds light on the issue for all staff because it explicitly sets forth what is expected of a rigorous and honest scientific process. It also provides a reminder that the researcher’s individual responsibility declines in a group environment.
(2) As the adoption of the ethics charter by the research institution was just a starting point, the next question was how to get all research staff to take part in a culture of ethics based on the demands of research practices and that would allow confidence in the quality of research produced to grow. This happens, among other measures, through the appointment of a “point person” within the institution, with a direct link to the administration, who makes sure that everyone can find out about the principles set out in the charter and who serves as the first point of contact for receiving requests for information and providing all possible advice in the area. It also happens through awareness-raising activities and training.
(3) Lastly, clear procedures, known to all, must be formulated to prevent and handle cases of alleged violations of the principles set forth in the ethics charter that are brought to the attention of the “point person” or the warnings relating thereto. The “point person” is responsible for reporting to the president of the institution on the conclusions and recommendations of the investigation, known to be independent and confidential, respecting the presumption of innocence and, if necessary, prepared with the help of experts outside the institution.
An international strategy necessary for organizing the movement against plagiarism and fraud
Pierre Hoffmeyer, Professor emeritus, former chief of surgery, the Geneva University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland
Plagiarism and academic fraud have grown rapidly over the past few years, as evidenced by a Google search for “plagiarism” that returned over 30 million (!) hits. The intensive use of Internet sources has made plagiarism easier, but it has also enabled its detection. The relationships that are becoming closer and closer, and with economic stakes, between research, industry and publication encourage a certain type of fraud that consists of failing to mention results that are perceived as negative or harmful to those behind the research. In the context of medical congresses or meetings with scientific or academic purposes, there is much promotion of new molecules, breakthrough procedures or innovative technologies by industry partners. The financial fruits of this promotion is necessary for the functioning of learned societies and academic institutions but without proof or evidence of how effective or innocuous these new products are, there is the danger of fraud.
Plagiarism and fraud are immune to borders and have reached all regions of the globe, both north and south, as evidenced by articles found on the topic on all continents and a range of countries, including countries as diverse as Nigeria, Cameroon, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Iran, Romania, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In the face of this growing epidemic, academic institutions, learned societies and publishers of specialized journals have begun putting defense measures into place. First, many medical learned societies have put into place ethics committees and guidelines that specifically mention plagiarism and scientific fraud.
To confront the increase in the number of cases of plagiarism and fraud, a strategy that includes prevention, identification and sanctions must be put into place by scientific and academic organizations. Prevention could take the form of informing all parties concerned of the facts. The problem of sanctions must be analyzed. In a proven case of fraud or plagiarism, the consequence must be expulsion, plain and simple. For example, two “eminent” members of a surgical society were expelled for having sent a fraudulent summary for acceptance at the annual meeting. The matter was taken seriously by the Scandinavian university where the “researchers” worked and which, as a result, put an end to their affiliation and their university titles. But each case is different and it is a matter of putting into place the instruments that allow us to avoid under- or overestimating the seriousness of the wrong and to adjust the severity of the sanction to be applied. The scientific community urgently needs to set up an international reference body to establish, to the extent possible, norms as to what is acceptable and a scale of sanctions for cases that cannot (yet) be handled by the civil or criminal justice systems.
Scientific journals vs. institutions in the management of bad practices
Hervé Maisonneuve, Consultant on scientific writing, former Associate Professor of Public Health, Paris
Highlighting bad practices is a role that scientific journals do not want. The journals can react through 3 mechanisms: correction, expression of reservations, and retraction. Retractions are on the rise and will soon reach 1,000 per year. The causes are above all fraud/misappropriation and honest errors. The pressure on researchers to publish and the fact that their careers are evaluated based on a surrogate endpoint (number of articles in a prestigious journal) rather than on the quality of their research has had an impact on the journals. A denial that the literature is being polluted is a frequent attitude among all participants.
The journals are sometimes on the front line and they uncover plagiarism, redundant publications, manipulation of data or images, publications that do not respect the objectives of protocols, conflicts of authors and other questionable research practices. The journals point out these practices to the authors, sometimes to the reviewers, but nothing happens. The journals do not often deal with the institutions, who protect their researchers, and do not respond to the journals.
In order to publish a retraction, the journal must have proof. If the authors agree to sign a retraction (honest error or bad practices), the journal will publish that retraction. If the authors refuse to cooperate, the journal cannot publish a retraction without proof (a suspicion is not sufficient), nor can it carry out an audit in an institution. The only option is to write to the institution: in the absence of a response, the journal should be able to turn to another external body, with recommendations as to the grounds for an investigation. Outside North America, there is no structure for assessing these situations.
Is everyone guilty? The universities think that it is the fault of the scientific journals and their poor working practices. The journal editors think that if the universities did their job, they would receive only high-quality manuscripts that would have already been reviewed by the institutions. Obviously a dialogue of the deaf without a solution!
It is not part of the mission of journals to take the place of institutions in order to evaluate or audit the quality of their practices. The proposals of DORA (Declaration On Research Assessement) go in the right direction but they are insufficient. The Committee On Publication Ethics has created a space for dialogue but has not provided strategies for action. Journals wish to associate their efforts to reinforce academic integrity after publication. The issue, in 2016, is knowing how and by use of which measures.
Certification by the SGS and the anti-plagiarism program
Jean-Pierre Méan, Former president of Transparency International Switzerland, Expert in SGS accreditation, Geneva Switzerland
We will first provide an overview of SGS’s certification activities in the field of corporate social responsibility and in the fight against corruption and plagiarism. SGS is the number 1 company in inspection, verification, testing and certification. It has 85,000 employees and 1,800 offices and labs around the world. Its turnover is CHF 5.7 billion (€ 5.1 billion), No. 1 in certification, with turnover of CHF 419 million (€ 377 million). The evaluations and certifications are carried out according to the following standards, among others: ISO 26000 (non certifiable); Social responsibility, ISO 45001 et OHSAS 18001; Health and safety, SA 8000; Social responsibility. The SGS is, in addition, accredited to carry out audits under the following programs: Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Initiative Clause Sociale (ICS), International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI). SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) members ethical trade audit (SMETA).
SGS was a pioneer in Europe in putting into place its own ant-corruption system, in getting involved in the evaluation and certification of anti-corruption management systems under: the French standard Ethic Intelligence, the British standard BS 10500 and is preparing for ISO 37001 (fall 2016). The development of the anti-corruption certification was prompted by the implementation of the UK Bribery Act in 2011: This law provided for criminal liability for companies for any corruption occurring within them if they did not have suitable anti-corruption procedures; this provision covers the worldwide operations of all companies with business activity in the United Kingdom.
Against this background, the guidelines for an anti-plagiarism program would be presented. They were developed with Professor Michelle Bergadaà for the anti-plagiarism expertise and by SGS for the certification expertise. They include the elements of programs that are in conformity, namely: commitment on the part of the individuals and bodies concerned to fight against plagiarism, financial and human resources, charters or codes of conduct, internal and external communication, monitoring, management of complaints, sanctions and communication.
The main types of academic fraud: how to identify them in order to contain them
Paulo Peixoto, Professor, University of Coimbra
(Member of a research team. The other members are Ana Seixas, Denise Esteves, Filipe Almeida and Paulo Gama.)
A study, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Operational Programme Thematic Factors of Competitiveness (COMPETE) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), was conducted on a representative sample (7,292 respondents). It dealt with academic fraud committed by undergraduate university students in Portugal (a study also conducted in Brazil and Spain with non-representative samples). A typology of the main forms of academic fraud could be established. This typology was verified through surveys of professors (2,727 respondents). It was validated, at the level of content, with qualitative methodologies.
Upon completion of this project, we are in a position to present the main motivating and inhibiting factors leading to the commission or the non-commission of different types of academic fraud. It is based in four axial categories of fraud: appropriation, simulation, facilitation and occultation. We will present the perceptions and opinions of students and professors as to the predominant forms of academic fraud in order to identify and discuss the most frequent forms. We will address mechanisms for exposing cases of fraud, the attribution of a sense of seriousness relating to the different forms of academic fraud and the steps that precede the commission of the different types of fraud.
A research funding agency’s approach: the experience of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR)
Asaël Rouby, Research Integrity Officer, FNR, Luxembourg
While Luxembourg is a new research location, public research has been receiving considerable support from the public and political entities for over ten years. In the coming years, it will be the individual responsibility of those involved in research to collectively furnish the proof that those investments were not in vain and that the investments will bear fruit in terms of their economic, societal, cultural and academic impact.
The FNR hopes, in the current context, to take on the role of public research financing agency and aims to “promote the scientific quality and excellence of research.” Therefore, as a research sponsor who awards its funds on a competitive basis, the FNR began reflecting on scientific ethics and integrity several years ago so that it can better define its policies, coherently with the actions of various stakeholders.
Conduct that is questionable from an ethical or deontological perspective is the subject of greater transparence and as a financing agency, it is proper for us to respond. To illustrate the evolution in the approach of European stakeholders, we will use the example of the working group of Science Europe (a) and of Luxembourg’s Presidency of the EU Council (b) as well as the desire of national stakeholders to create a common agency (c).
a) Science Europe (founded in 2011) is an association that brings together 52 financing agencies and research bodies, whose aim is to promote the collective interests of financing and conducting research in Europe. Through working groups, various approaches were formulated to help members put rules into place.
b) Since the adoption in early December 2015 in the competitiveness council, during Luxembourg’s Presidency of the EU Council, scientific integrity in research is also reflected by member states’ policies.
c) At the national level, the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and the FNR hope to put into place, in 2016, a national agency with a double mission: to prevent and investigate cases of fraud.
What is at stake for the future is the preservation of prior investments and a guarantee of excellence and, without wanting to make a plea for “clean” science, it is advisable to put the approach under the light of current perspectives and to discuss the possible choices and directions, because fraud helps sow doubt and discredit.
A collaborative platform dedicated to plagiarism and scientific fraud: a netnographic analysis
Nada Sayarh, doctoral student, School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva
At its inception, the website “Responsable.unige.ch” set itself the objective of supporting victims of academic plagiarism. Until now, the website has been able to use its own resources to fill this academic void. However, the proliferation of cases of plagiarism, as well as the growing recognition of the site, has led to an excess in requests for assistance, which have expanded beyond the borders of the French language and the context of French-speaking Switzerland. The “Responsable” team has therefore set itself the challenge of expanding its activities through a collaborative virtual platform.
This format for collaborative involvement has several advantages. First, the virtual presence allows victims to receive immediate answers to their questions from other “members” without the direct involvement of the person who is currently the victims’ sole interlocutor, Professor Bergadaà. The collaborative nature of this community allows each person to have access to expertise from various fields and countries. This type of virtual community raises the curtain on what is not said and gives members a sense of security that encourages them to express themselves. The interaction between members leads to a culture of sharing information and of mutual support. In addition, this type of group provides the opportunity to align on objectives that could, in this context, move forward the overall fight against the spread of plagiarism.
In terms of scientific research, a virtual platform allows for a better understanding of the subject and its trends, as a collaborative site allows for an increase in the number of cases handled. This provides access to a corpus of research rich in substance that can be analyzed by means of a thorough Netnography. This innovative method allows for an analysis of data available on the Web. It provides access to data that traditional methods, such as interviews or focus groups, do not. Netnography is a natural, non-intrusive method that allows the culture and the dynamics of virtual communities to be defined. It is a natural method, that allows for the observation of interaction among members in their environment. This method is preferable for sensitive subjects; it favors freedom of expression when dealing with subjects that are difficult to address in a face-to-face context. This is the case of subjects tied to plagiarism. In the long run, a true “collaborative intelligence” may come about automatically.
Towards an international legal framework for Wikis and online platforms
Jean-Baptiste Soufron, Lawyer, journalist, former general secretary of the French Digital Council, Paris, France
Cases of academic plagiarism are very hard for the victims to bear. In addition to the humiliation that every person experiences when something they have created has been stole, these victims feel intense professional pressure that other categories of authors do not. Legal tools are not adapted to situations where the victims do not dare to react out of fear that it will reflect badly on academics in general, that they will experience informal sanctions in their career or in their publications, or that they will be abandoned by their institution. Unlike authors of artistic works or more traditional holders of intellectual or industrial property rights, academic authors do not dare to turn to the legal system, thereby creating a vicious cycle in which plagiarists are never sanctioned and as a result are encouraged to continue. What is worse, situations can even arise where the plagiarist is ultimately recognized as the author, instead of the person who originally created the work. And if the consequences are already serious in traditional counterfeiting, they are even more serious in academia because they prevent the functioning of the scientific method and may allow individuals to acquire positions or budgets for teaching and research because of the fraud they committed and not because of their merits, thereby diminishing the resources available to true researchers.
Given this situation, the inadequacy of the current state of the law must be noted. Not so much in its substance as in its form and the manner in which it is practiced. Academic authors are not like other authors and, when whistleblowers are being protected, their copyright should also be protected. For that, a key point is to put into place a third party or a community that can help them, but that can also assess the case, serve as a connection with their superiors and act in their place in order to protect them. With time, one may hope that these third parties will associate and form communities and become capable of triggering formal or informal sanctions by the mere fact of their legitimacy and by the quality of their assessments. There are different tools to do this, both on the legal level (copyright, rights of whistleblowers, etc.) and on the IT level (anti-plagiarism software, wikis, etc.). It is their coordination and their implementation that it is important to see today.