New Misconduct and New Opportunities

New forms of misconduct have emerged (and traditional ones have changed their meaning) under pressure from the increasing global scale and multicultural nature of collaborations, their increasing interdisciplinary makeup, and the growing reliance on digital technologies for publishing and accessing scholarship. Plagiarism has become frequently associated with non-native English speaking students and scientists (Xiguang & Lei 1996; Brumfiel 2007) who claim to be forced to copy from well-written papers or articles to meet the demands of instructors or peer reviewers that, they say, evaluate language fluency, not just content (Vasconcelos 2009; Yalmaz 2007). And while textual similarity algorithms make plagiarism of published texts much easier to detect, they have little purchase on the new and growing appropriation of unpublished texts like grant proposals and manuscripts submitted for publication (Price 2006; Rennie 1993; Biagioli 2012 (a)(b)). Plagiarism has also spawn “self- plagiarism” or duplicate publication, which, like the plagiarism of grant proposals, was of little concern a couple of decades ago (Errami et al. 2008, 2009; Garner 2009; Samuelson 1994). And if falsification and fabrication used to involve only scholarly claims, it has now migrated to resumes, grade transcripts, and referee reports (Retraction Watch 2012). New questionable forms of publication also include the peddling of new journals with dubious publishers and editors (and even conferences with fake organizing committees) that appear to provide credible venues for scholarly communication but are in fact borderline scam operations preying on scholars’ fears about the length of their vitae. Also new and increasingly common is so-called “ghostwriting”: the production of biomedical articles by professional writers hired by pharmaceutical companies that are eventually published under the name of academic scientists who lend “brand recognition” to these articles without having had much (or any) role in them (Sismondo 2009; Fugh-Berman 2010). These developments both highlight and modify the traditional tensions between academia and private-sector interests, while further complicating still unresolved questions over the meaning of authorship and the role of the names listed in a publication’s byline – questions that have become increasingly more complex as the scale of some collaborations has reached into four-digit territory (Biagioli 1998, 2000, 2006; Biagioli & Galison 2003).

Misconduct is an experiment we do not want to see replicated, and yet one that teaches us a lot about the tensions within the system of scholarly communication. And new forms of misconduct (precisely because they are new) may tell us how the system is changing, and where the new stress points are. New misuses of the author function (such as ghostwriting) are bringing up new interesting problem about the meaning of authors’ names, and the expectation of accountability we have developed around them, as well as the issue of corporate authorship that they try to render invisible. Similarly, new patterns of plagiarism triggered (allegedly) by the linguistic requirements of top-tier journals are a window not on cultural specificities and perceptions of the divide between what is allowable borrowing and what instead counts as appropriation, but rather on the tensions between the global north and global south around the use of English as the standard language of an increasingly global science. Similarly, plagiarism generated in peer review contexts reminds us of the inherently difficult and ambiguous role of the reviewer — a person we ask to spend time evaluating and making scholarship better without being allegedly allowed to learn and use anything from that which s/he helps make better, and without being paid or receiving public credit for that (Biagioli 2007). Without in any way condoning the profoundly unethical and possibly illegal actions of some reviewers, can we really take the role of the peer reviewer, as we construe it now, to be unproblematic? Or have we created an imaginary figure simply because we had to, because the logic of the system required the assumption of the existence of such a person or figure — like the “reasonable person” or the “person skilled in the art” we find in law? How can we make that role more realistic and viable?

Our research will cluster around the following topics over three years:

Year 1: Emergent Misconduct. Gather case studies, evidence, and data on new forms of misconduct described above (from ORI, NSF, UCSF’s “Drug Industry Document Archive” and other agencies) to map out typologies and disciplinary and geographical distributions, and draft a literature review article. This phase, together the identification of additional potential collaborators, will provide the basis for the second year’s activities. We will also have a one-day research workshop (funded by the Center for Science and Innovation Studies (CSIS)) entitled “Publication Mismatches” on the work academics produce and .

Year 2: Learning from Misconduct: Appropriation and Authorship in the Age of Digital Publications. A large international conference on this topic will be the public highlight of this year’s activities, while the team’s main research focus will be on peer review, its functions and forms (blind, double-blind, open) and locations in the system of scholarly communication, the role of definitions of reviewers and editors, the use of peer review results in scholarly evaluations, but also its drawbacks (its documented conservative bias, etc) and review-related forms of misconduct that have surfaced. We aim for a review paper of the growing literature and empirical evidence on this topic, and at identifying the specific topics and collaborators for the third year’s program.

Year 3: Can There Be Life After Peer Review? Run a workshop on the possibility of a system of academic publication that does not fundamentally rest on peer review, and on whether (and why) the answers may be different depending on the disciplines. In the same year, CSIS will organize and fund a related workshop on “From Record to Work: The History and Sociology of the Curriculum Vitae” focusing on how, in the age of publish-or-perish, what used to be a record of a scholar’s work has effectively become a work in and of itself, and what that captures about changes in scholarly publication and credit metrics.

One thought on “New Misconduct and New Opportunities

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *