The time has come to take fraud in science seriously. The fraud, in all its forms, is increasing.
The causes of this are clear:
Scientific institutions had refused intervention of the competent investigative and law enforcement agencies.
The science became “self-regulating”. This, however, would not end in a catastrophe, if the investigations were given to the scientists. But the investigations fell into the hands of the bureaucrats and the people who had nothing to do with science.
Now, the internal investigative procedures are obeying the artificially imposed, often by the unions, rules of confidentiality.
Over the years, the administrators had downgraded the seriousness of fraud occurring in science. The terms and definitions were changed. Fraud in science became a “misconduct”. The “misconduct” is said to be related to “research ethics”; the rules of the “research ethics” are still not settled. The university officials are free to issue completely arbitrary decisions. Sometimes, the public can wonder what is behind the officials’ disregard of the law and rules, is it politics, bribes or something else.
Some time ago, there appeared numerous “committees” and “secretariats” playing the role of the “watchdogs” of ethics and integrity. Although they may not have scientists on their staff, their decisions are accepted by universities, governmental bodies and thousands of scientific journals. It seems that they represent the same political groups that are fighting “culture wars”, “science wars” and “gender wars” for some decades. They now are focused on exonerating “ones of their own” when they commit fraud.
Journalists, mass media, who very often play a decisive role in uncovering white-collar crime elsewhere in society, are not doing this job in science. They became an instrument of propaganda in the hands of scientific establishment.
The popular explanation for the present situation in academia says that competition for funds and positions makes scientists to commit fraud. This explanation almost absolves the perpetrators from any responsibility; it is transferring the blame on the society and the system. In reality, however, the system is broken not only by the moneys but even more by the corruption of the administration and the new “watchdogs”, resulting in impunity that perpetrators of fraud are enjoying for years and decades.
There is no reason why the system cannot be made transparent. Currently, there are many complaints remaining unseen and unknown to the public, even within the academia. They are disregarded by the administration, moreover, they are kept in confidential files.
Yet, everybody is entitled to publish his or her story, to show the documents supporting the complaints and to demand justice. Everybody is entitled to publicly demand the proper answer to his or her complaints. Here, there will be links to the allegations of fraud and misconduct published on the web. The discussion here will include not only individual cases, but also the methods of fighting the fraud, first among them – opening the “floodgates” that now keep individual cases outside of the scientific journals and other media. Scientific journals that lack interest in transparency will be exposed.
The current pattern of thinking about the process of reporting fraud in academia as being different from reporting other white-collar crime, must be broken.
What are your options when you are talking to a used car dealer?
The proverbial used car dealer sold you a “lemon”. And then you are trying to argue… But imagine for a moment that the car dealer makes his own law, and imagine that he can change it depending on the circumstances. If this is so, you cannot argue, you cannot go to the police, you cannot go to court. This is exactly the situation today in academia. Just one example: In 2009, I complained to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) that a journal editor refused to retract an obviously plagiarised paper. This Committee issued Code of Conduct for the editors of 5000 scientific journals who became COPE members, and COPE is watching them. Now, see my exchange of emails with COPE:
The first answer from COPE was that there was no plagiarism because I say that my plagiarised research was unpublished. They said that there cannot be plagiarism of unpublished research. The Committee lied: their own definition of plagiarism included unpublished research. I objected. However, COPE insisted that to interpret and apply the term “plagiarism” is up to them: “Whether or not COPE chooses to consider how the term ‘plagiarism’ is to be interpreted and applied in the future with regard to its advice and guidance is in the gift of the COPE Council” (email #17). Not the used car dealer?
Their second answer was that there was no plagiarism, but there was an authorship dispute. I showed them that there was no authorship dispute. Then, COPE refused my case for the third time – they invented a new rule saying that if the editor had seen the case before he became the COPE member, COPE will not require the editor to adhere to the Code of Conduct when I again (after he became a member of COPE) ask him to retract the paper. At this point they also decided that their first fraud with definition of plagiarism was too much, and, they admitted: “We probably did make a mistake with our interpretation of the term ‘plagiarism’…” Not a used car dealer? I only had one option left – to get documents of this fraud published.
How this site will help?
This site will have a list of links to the individual cases published on the web. It will serve as a register for complaints and allegations made by the individuals in academia.
Scientific journals, as a rule, refuse to publish the allegations made by the individuals, no matter how much proved by the documents, unless there is a permission from the institution for such publication. It is also practically impossible to get a retraction of the paper from the journal editor, no matter how much evidence of plagiarism, fraud, etc. you present, if the institution does not want the retraction. The governmental committees on scientific integrity reject most of the complaints they receive; the secret behind this is in the fact that their decisions are also based on the institutional investigations. All these other investigations, therefore, are not independent investigations. And, it all boils down to the university “investigating” its own fraud; the result depends on how close to the administration is the accused. Now, institutions have full control over the outcome of even the most outrageous frauds committed there and covered up there.
Practically nothing becomes known about the allegations of fraud and misconduct rejected by the university administration or governmental agencies, no matter what was the evidence. They say they need to impose secrecy in order not to damage the reputation of innocent people. I have grave doubts about this pretext and about this policy. How would you react if all court trials were conducted in secrecy and only the guilty verdicts were made public? Would you have any trust in such courts?
It will make a huge difference if the complaint and the documents are published independently of any investigations, and published timely.
The publication, most certainly, will make those who may want to cover up fraud, to think twice. It can prevent, just in time, the possible bribery, political influence, etc. If you publish your case too late (the mistake I made), it allows the crooks to use the results of their own fraudulent investigation and all subsequent investigations (based on the university investigation) as a proof that you are dead wrong. The current policies and procedures are designed to perpetuate the fraud, not to stop it. Receiving unsatisfactory answer at the first level almost certainly means that you should expect the same at all other levels. Therefore, it would be wise to go public after the very first rejected complaint, provided you have the documents. You should not waste ten years or more in a process which is not even transparent.
How to make an allegation?
Fraud is a legal term. The courts, however, always declined to say what are the borders of this crime because new varieties of it can be invented that will defy any definitions. Misconduct is the term for the violation of internal institutional rules; it has no meaning for the law. Misconduct in science is currently defined as deviation from the best practices in science – a usual administrative nonsensical definition allowing the administrators to make an arbitrary decision in any particular case; but they can also say “fraud”.
Three varieties of science fraud/misconduct are usually considered: falsification, fabrication and plagiarism. In fact, plagiarism is also a falsification, a falsification of the fact of authorship; and you better remember this.
At least 90% of all stories published by the media are allegations, usually supported by the evidence; they are not yet facts proved in court. The media does not have any special rights in this, and reporting allegations publicly by anyone is 100% legal and can be absolutely necessary. There is also no question about your right to make public any legally obtained documents. Allegations can be made in different forms: from bold statements to just presenting the evidence, usually – in documents. The wording of allegations normally would depend on the amount and quality of the evidence. And, you may choose not to say either “fraud” or “misconduct”; the important part – is your documents.
Institutions always want to prevent any public disclosure of what they consider to be confidential documents, sometimes using intimidation. You can be told that it is in your own interest to remain quiet. But once you agree, you should forget about reaching a just solution: there is no need for secrecy in doing the right thing. Unfortunately, it may take years before you realise that what for the officials is “confidential”, it is not so for you.
Your case can be a “whistleblowing” that does not involve you as a person, or, you can describe your personal case, or – a combinations of both, may be including a retaliation acts from the administration. You can make public your complaint against the institution, scientific journal, etc. Whatever it is, your allegation must be absolutely and scrupulously concrete. Each allegation must be supported by the document. You give your name, and you give the name(s) of the person(s) and the place. You do not complain solely about the “system”. Your allegations should accomplish your goal – to present available evidence to the public for judgement and action. Get a website and do your job.
The last note: the preferred way used by the administration to cover up fraud is not so much denying the facts, but falsifying the applicable law and rules of academia. You need to have everything in written.