Iran's publish 'at any cost' mentality blamed for surge in academic fraud

University of Tehran scholar condemns quantity over quality approach. Hannah Fearn reports

August 5, 2010

A surge in research output in Iran has come at the cost of honesty, with the pressure on academics to publish leading to a widespread culture of plagiarism.

In a damning critique of the Iranian academy, Nader Naghshineh, director of the information studies lab at the University of Tehran, said scholars are pressured into publishing “at any cost”.

Terming the problem the “Ceausescu effect”, Dr Naghshineh said the country had experienced two decades of rapid growth in research output despite the fact that the number of academics per capita had remained unchanged.

Instead of focusing on quality, policymakers in Iran had concentrated on the number of papers published internationally by researchers, he said.

“In a country with the highest unemployment rate among university graduates in the region, and with double-digit inflation, the powers that be boast about scientific output, which sounds more than ever like a pyrrhic victory,” he said. “The mere peer pressure to produce at any cost, regardless of due diligence, has led to an exploitative situation.”

By way of example, Dr Naghshineh said he had observed tutors ordering their students to publish papers and then taking credit as lead author of the work.

Students were also encouraged to “creatively pilfer the intellectual properties of others and repackage it as a new article” in order to generate more output, he said.

His claims are made in a paper, “The Ceausescu effect: The pathology of scientific fraud and plagiarism in Iran”, which was distributed at the Fourth International Plagiarism Conference at Northumbria University this summer.

It says that faculty members in Iranian universities are increasingly becoming “Renaissance men” as a result, publishing across numerous academic fields.

Christopher Davidson, senior lecturer in government and international affairs at Durham University and an expert on the Gulf and the Middle East, said that the practices detailed by Dr Naghshineh were compounded by the deferential relationship students shared with their academic supervisors in Iran.

Anxiety about maintaining a good relationship with supervisors meant students were often visibly shaken if their tutors were publicly criticised, he said.

“Part of the answer to this is to deal with academic outputs in different languages,” he said. “People who are under pressure to get publications out sometimes look to research done in another language, add their twist to it and publish it (in their own language).” Excerpts may be copied “word for word”, Dr Davidson added.

He said that many Gulf states were acting to eliminate plagiarism and poor practice from higher education, but that progress was slow in Iran. “Iran doesn’t have to have political stability in place to press ahead with any of those moves.”

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com

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