Food for Thought

Plagiarism and Fraud in Science

With the developement and improvement of technologies and the internet, research has in general become more facile. Numerous online journals and databases help the scientist to stay “up-tp-date” in his area. In chemistry, improvements of analytical methodologies allow for a faster and more accurate indentification of unknown and new compounds. However, the above mentioned technology drive has also some negative aspects, which should not be forgotten. Plagiarism is easier as well! According to Wikipedia, plagiarism is the practice of claiming, or implying, original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else’s written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one’s own without adequate acknowledgement. Obviously, the term “creative work” usually includes scientific ideas as well.
Students often plagiarize by submitting reports that have been copied from internet sources. Research students claim results from their seniors or vice versa as their own, while their supervisors often overloaded with administrative work, may not be always aware of “who did what” in a big research group. In most cases, plagiarism can be avoided by proper referencing. On the other hand, there are also numerous cases of professors and scientists being accused of plagiarism by stealing/copying ideas from colleagues or even faking results. The latter represents an especially sad case, since professors are usually regarded as “honourable and creative minds”. The pressure to publish will never justify such inexcusable behaviour.
Both professors, scientists and students should all take responsibility and avoid plagiarism. The statement “Don’t get caught!” is totally inappropiate to educate our students. The true take-home message is the opposite of the Nike’s slogan: “Just don’t do it”

More on this topic can be found in Horace Freeland Judson’s “The Great Betrayal: Fraud in Science”.

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