Plagiarism checks ‘just as important for academics as students’

With 30 retractions so far and counting, experts say former Swinburne scientist exemplifies the need to screen research articles

十一月 5, 2019
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Anti-plagiarism technology should be applied to research papers as assiduously as to student assessments, experts say, amid an unfolding integrity scandal rocking Australian higher education.

Dozens of papers written by Ali Nazari, a materials science researcher at Swinburne University of Technology from 2014 until this year, have been retracted following allegations that he had plagiarised research, recycled material and falsified data.

Writing in the Retraction Watch blog, an unnamed whistleblower alleges that Dr Nazari had published about 200 research papers using enough material to justify 20, while “vastly varying authorship lists” raised questions over the writers’ identities. “The issues are serious enough to call into question the reliability of Nazari’s entire body of work,” the post says.

Bill Loller, vice-president of product management with plagiarism detection company Turnitin, said that technology such as its iThenticate system – used by publishers and research institutions to gauge the originality of submitted work – “absolutely would have picked up on” the duplication.

He said that such software had not been embraced to the same degree as services that checked students’ work. “But there’s a definite continuum of adoption. Examples like at Swinburne only increase awareness of the need,” Mr Loller said.

So far, 27 of Dr Nazari’s papers have been retracted, including 22 from two journals produced by the publisher Sage. The International Journal of Materials Research says that it will retract three additional articles, with its editor-in-chief identifying at least one more that should be withdrawn. “It appears that Ali Nazari...followed a scheme of duplication and falsification,” he wrote in a note announcing the retractions.

The 30 papers pulled so far involved 10 co-authors, most of whom contributed to multiple publications. Six are affiliated with Nazari’s former employer, Iran’s Islamic Azad University, including Shadi Riahi, a co-author on 23 of the retracted papers. Another two authors have been affiliated with Tehran’s Amirkabir University of Technology, where Dr Nazari apparently works now.

All 30 papers predate Dr Nazari’s time at Swinburne and none involve Swinburne co-authors.

Swinburne said that it “takes research integrity seriously”, conducting annual internal reviews and three-year external reviews. Asked about the retractions, it said that it had “undertaken an investigation focused on the work of a researcher, published prior to joining the university”.

An independent external review of “related research areas” has now been “prioritised as part of due diligence”, it added.

Cath Ellis, associate dean of arts and social sciences at UNSW Sydney, said that academics “should be holding each other to account” in the same way that they scrutinised students. Research integrity tools “should be part of how we manage the refereeing process of journal articles”, she said.

Dr Ellis said that contract cheating was often perceived as a victimless crime. “When undergraduates, postgraduates and academics undertake any form of academic misconduct, there is a public risk element. Doctors, nurses, teachers, personal financial managers – you name it, there’s a public risk element.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Academics ‘must be holding each other to account’

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