Dishonesty in Academia

Dishonesty in Academia

Despite innumerous warnings and ubiquitous professional talks concerning ethical issues in the realm of science, many academic institutions find difficulty in preventing academic dishonesty in all of its forms: plagiarism, falsifying data, cheating, etc. Plagiarism and other offenses concerning scientific publication are of special concern as these offenses are not limited to students.

In a most severe and publicized illumination of the damaging effects of plagiarism, esteemed professor Dr. Dongqing Li of Waterloo University and award winning graduate student Yasaman Daghighi were found to have been guilty of blatant plagiarism. In this offense, text and charts were directly copied and pasted from a paper on the same topic (lab-on-a-chip technology; for a review see Temiz, Lovchik, Kaigala, & Delamarche, 2014) by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, Dr. Martin Bazant. What is of equal severity is that the means by which Bazant’s unpublished paper was acquired remains to be certain.

Although infractions of this magnitude by such high ranking professionals are rare, the overall issue is not. In an interesting article on why this issue, among other forms of academic dishonesty, is still prevalent, Smaldino & Mcelreath (2016) posit that the pressure to publish large quantities to increase professional status is a key driver of academic dishonesty.

This “publish or perish” reality for members of academia has been mentioned by Dr. Jay Gillette in ICS 602-02, Human Communication. In class discourse, we as a class discussed the realities for both members of academia and working professionals; for those in academia, publishing is the method by which the academic is both hired and given tenure.

As the primary method for career advancement, publishing new papers over a relatively short time period is a necessity. Smaldino & McElreath (2016) argue that it is these standards in academia that promote dishonest work. One fascinating aspect of psychological research that the authors denote is the fact that less than 1% of all new research is replicated (Makel, Plucker & Hegarty, 2012). As a psychology major in undergrad, I found this statistic to be remarkable; even if members of academia were to cheat, usually through the falsification of data, they likely would not be caught if the scientific community is not attempting to replicate results.

The discussion of plagiarism and academic dishonesty as a whole represents an intriguing discussion about the dissonance between what academia expects of its members and the honest fulfillment of those expectations. This debate will only continue as those like Smaldino and McElreath call for institutional reform, and academia continues in its hiring and promotion practices.

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