Newcastle goes back to basics to avoid plagiarism

February 4, 2010

A faculty at the centre of an embarrassing plagiarism case has ordered senior researchers to check more carefully the drafts of papers written by inexperienced colleagues.

The faculty of medical sciences at Newcastle University was left red-faced last year when plagiarised material was spotted in an article that made the headlines globally.

Now Newcastle has revealed that it has written to principal investigators across the faculty reminding them that all publications "must be original and care must be taken in checking drafts of papers written by earlier-career researchers".

The offending paper, which was published last July and subsequently withdrawn, covered the creation of sperm from human embryonic stem cells. It listed Karim Nayernia, professor of stem-cell biology at Newcastle, as the corresponding author, and had 13 authors in total, including other Newcastle scientists.

However, the blame for the plagiarism was pinned on its first author, postdoctoral fellow Jae Ho Lee, who had left the university. Newcastle promised to examine the supervision of research associates in the wake of the case.

Minutes from a meeting of the faculty's research strategy committee note that the incident caused "adverse publicity" and "reputational damage" to the university.

But it discounts the use of plagiarism detection software to avoid a repeat, choosing instead to re-inforce "existing good practice".

This includes appropriate supervision of postdoctoral staff, "including the previewing of draft papers" and the use of "native English-speaking staff" to support junior colleagues.

Tim Cawston, the faculty's dean of research, said two mistakes had been made in the plagiarism case: the postdoc had inappropriately copied a large piece of text, and the principal investigator - Professor Nayernia - had not checked his work.

He said "the buck stops with the principal investigator", but added there were "gradations of seriousness" and that Professor Nayernia had been "spoken to". The issue now received more emphasis in internal training programmes, he said.

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