Professor accused of using student’s work without consent

Psychologist ‘strenuously’ denies misconduct allegations. Melanie Newman reports

A professor of psychology is to appear before the Health Professions Council (HPC) accused of reproducing large sections of a supervisee’s dissertation.

If he is found guilty of professional misconduct, the case will have implications for how academics credit their graduate students’ work.

Remco Polman’s 2007 paper on rugby players’ moods in the Journal of Sports Sciences lists Jeannette Cohen, his former MSc student, as third author, but does not refer to any prior research undertaken by her.

The HPC alleges that the professor “reproduced substantial sections” from Ms Cohen’s dissertation without her permission, and signed a copyright agreement with the journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, without her consent.

Professor Polman strenuously denies misconduct. In his response to the HPC’s case, he admits that some passages in the paper are the same as those in the dissertation, and acknowledges that Ms Cohen’s research “made a contribution” to the article.

“However, substantial additional work and reworking of the material as a whole was required to prepare the article for publication, as evidenced by the number of revised drafts,” he says.

He adds that as Ms Cohen does not own the copyright for her dissertation or the final paper, her consent was unnecessary for the agreement with Taylor & Francis. The professor also insists he tried to contact Ms Cohen to discuss the paper, although she disputes this.

Ms Cohen graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University in 2002 with a distinction in her sports and exercise science MSc. In 2007, she came across the Journal of Sports Sciences paper. She complained to the University of Hull, where her former supervisor was then based, Leeds Met and the British Psychological Society that there was a “significant overlap” between the paper and her dissertation.

Leeds Met carried out a preliminary investigation and found a “strong prima facie case” for plagiarism, as the student’s work was not properly acknowledged.

“The conclusions reached in the article are substantially those set out by Ms Cohen,” its report says.

There was also “every reason to assume” that the fieldwork and initial analysis were the former student’s, it adds. It also says that if the intention of the paper was to reappraise Ms Cohen’s earlier work, the text did not make this clear.

Despite pressure from Ms Cohen, Leeds Met did not undertake a further investigation and Hull dismissed the claims outright, telling her that plagiarism had not occurred as she had been included in the list of authors.

The British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences, the organisation on behalf of which the Journal of Sports Sciences is published, also investigated the matter and concluded there was no case to answer.

It told Ms Cohen a panel of three had decided that “plagiarism had not occurred as you were fully recognised as an author on the final published paper”.

The British Psychological Society decided there was a prima facie case of professional misconduct and referred it to a conduct committee hearing. The HPC has now assumed responsibility and will hear the case on 5 March.

In his letter to the conduct committee, Dr Polman, who is now based at the University of Central Lancashire, says it would be “perverse” to claim that he had failed to acknowledge Ms Cohen’s contribution, given that she had been credited as co-author.

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