Forget Journalists’ Ethics, How About Scientists’?

Just in case we journalists get too depressed about recent cases of invention and plagiarism, consider scientists.

Nature’s website quotes the annual report of the Committee on Publishing Ethics, which it says details misdemeanours that “cover a wide range of unethical activity, from attempted bribery to potential medical malpractice.” Two complaints concern cases where researchers were accused of copying someone else’s work. When editors investigated, they agreed that the papers were almost identical versions of previously published material, and that plagiarism was the most likely explanation.

“Duplicate publication, where the same paper is printed twice in different journals to boost publication records, is the most common offence, accounting for seven of 29 cases,” Nature says. Other cases involve conflicts of interest: One journal “ran a paper on passive smoking from authors who omitted to mention that they had received funding from the tobacco industry”.

The editors of the report also cite studies where medical procedures were run by researchers who did not have proper ethical clearance.  Another incident involved “a bid to persuade an editor to accept a manuscript, in which an anonymous caller offered to buy 1000 reprints of the published paper.” The caller also offered to buy dinner. Now that sounds like journalism.