I was looking over the current issue of Science and noticed an article about scientific integrity and plagiarism ("Responding to Possible Plagiarism" by Tara C. Long, Mounir Errami, Angela C. George, Zhaohui Sun, Harold R. Garner -- you can access the article through the library's website), and it really has made me question the level of responsibility in which scientists are held to.
The paper begins by stating:
"The peer-review process is the best mechanism to ensure the high quality of scientific publications. However, recent studies have demonstrated that the lack of well-defined publication standards, compounded by publication process failures, has resulted in the inadvertent publication of several duplicated and plagiarized articles. "
After a discussion about varying search engines/databases that are available for helping detect plagiarism, the authors' note that after their own search they found at least 212 cases of potential plagiarism. They then notified original and later authors and editors about the potential plagiarism. Response ranged from shock, anger, and disappointment to at least one of the later authors stating that they were not involved in the article. In conclusion the authors' note that there needs to be:
- Authoritative oversight by the scientific community
- Authors need to commit to the novelty and accuracy of the report
- Peer reviewers must make informed and thorough reviews
- Verification of originality by editors
However, my question is how is one to implement and/or enforce rules or guidelines that address these conclusions? For example, in respect to authors needing to commit to the accuracy of their report, isn't this what journals/editors/etc. already ask of the authors?
Also, how are editors to verify the originality? Are they to ask the authors to submit proof of all data? But wouldn't individuals already intent on copying or making up data find a way to do the same with "their" data?
In general there is an obvious need for the scientific community to start holding scientists to higher levels of responsibility and scientific integrity. I think that one way to help start this process is to start with younger/newer research scientists. Many of these scientists are under pressure to get a certain number of papers published, and unfortunately (as has been noted) this causes a quite a bit of "crap" to be published. This pressure needs to be lessened to allow these younger/newer scientists a chance to develop and produce real research. Much of this lessening of pressure needs to come from the universities and research insititutes.
Also, in respect to scientists who are well established and have larger labs in which they oversee, these scientists need to actually be overseeing and be apart of all research. I am not saying that all such scientists are not involved, but that involvement needs to be more than just being the person who gets all the grant money and signs off on projects and papers--they need to be involved in the development and carrying out of the projects.
Though there are other ways in which the responsibility and scientific integrity of scientists can be increased, I think that the scientific community needs to actually start doing something about it--instead of just going "oh well" or giving a simple slap on the hand in cases like plagiarism or "crap" publications.