Univeristy deans from across the nation are to convene on Thursday and Friday to consider establishing standard operating procedures for cases of academic plagiarism.
In July last year, Retraction Watch, an academic publication watchdog blog, found that then-National Pingtung University associate professor Chen Chen-yuan (陳震遠) had exploited a loophole in the online submission process for the Journal of Vibration and Control, using it to allegedly falsify reviews for his research papers.
The journal retracted 60 papers that Chen had submitted. Another paper by Chen, submitted to the journal Natural Hazards, allegedly plagiarized Wikipedia in its foreword and used sources without citation — mainly from his own papers — elsewhere.
The journal Nature on Tuesday last week reported that the National Natural Science Foundation of China revealed the names of seven scientists who the foundation said had conducted academic misconduct by plagiarizing others, purchasing grant proposals or using false identity information.
Academia Sinica member Poo Mu-ming (蒲慕明) said the foundation was on the right track, and that its approach to uncovering and publicizing misconduct should be emulated by universities and research facilities.
“Embarrassing [perpetrators] by publicizing their names sends a strong message to wrongdoers in a nation that places significant emphasis on ‘face,’” Poo said.
Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Chien Chung-liang (錢宗良) said that ultimately, institutions hold the final say.
“It is not an effort to sidestep our responsibility; the ministry is responsible for correcting and maintaining academic integrity, but the greatest problem in dealing with the issue is that the ministry can only offer the carrot, while being unable to present the stick,” Chien said.
Even the threat of suspending eligibility for grants is simply stopping the carrot supply, Chien said, adding that it is academic institutions that can present the stick and approve or reject a professor’s promotion.
“The universities must hold the front line of maintaining standards,” Chien said.
Institutions might not entirely agree with the concept of holding a news conference to expose academic plagiarism or other misconduct — or might consider it an infringement on university prestige, but it is what the ministry should be doing, Chien said.
Chien said that he would ask that the issue of establishing proper procedures in handling such incidents be discussed in the upcoming meeting.
Commenting on the proposal, Deputy Minister of Education Chen Te-hua (陳德華) said he respected the Ministry of Science and Technology’s method of tackling the issue.
He added, however, that there are many attitudes toward academic integrity, but in cases of intentional violations, information transparency about the offender — to prevent repeat incidents — may be a good idea.
National Tsing Hua University vice president Wu Cheng-wen (吳誠文) agreed with the Ministry of Science and Technology’s methods, saying that past practices of prioritizing the quantity of research sometimes encouraged academics to seek advancement through “less-than-sterling methods.”
“We should return to the essence of education, the essence of academia, and seek to contribute to both education and society,” Wu said.
Academics who violate integrity standards are currently suspended from grant eligibility by the Ministry of Science and Technology, as well as blocked from promotions by the Ministry of Education, Wu said, adding, however, that the punishment is considered very light.
Repeat occurrences of such incidents are a massive blow to academic institutions, Wu said.
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