Ethics Session 3: Scientific Misconduct

Instructors

Laura B. Dunn, M.D.

Aims

The overall goal of this session is to enhance students’ understanding of what constitutes scientific misconduct, particularly with respect to the personal and societal consequences of scientific misconduct. A specific focus on plagiarism and strategies to avoid plagiarism is included.

Objectives

By the end of this session, students will be able to:
  1. Summarize the background and consequences of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study
  2. Describe potential conscious and unconscious motivations to commit scientific misconduct
  3. List the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors uniform requirements for authorship credit
  4. Compose a list of potential conflicts of interest for their study based on JAMA’s definition of a conflict of interest
  5. Define plagiarism and self-plagiarism, and discuss strategies to avoid plagiarism.

Key Terms

  • Common knowledge: “facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be known by a lot of people.” (http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml)
  • Quotation: “using someone’s words. When you quote, place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and document the source according to a standard documentation style.” (http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml)
  • Paraphrase: “using someone’s ideas, but putting them in your own words. This is probably the skill you will use most when incorporating sources into your writing. Although you use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge the source of the information.” (http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/plagiarism.shtml)
  • Plagiarism: “taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgement, and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver” (American Association of University Professors, September/October, 1989).
  • Self-Plagiarism: Self-plagiarism includes “the publication of what is essentially the same paper in more than one journal, but without any indication that the paper has been published elsewhere (i.e., redundant and duplicate publication)”; “the partitioning of a large study which should have been reported in a single paper into smaller published studies (i.e., salami-slicing)”; copyright infringement; and text recycling (http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~roigm/plagiarism/Plagiarism.html).

Agenda

  1. Discuss students’ perceptions about scientific misconduct: what have you been taught about scientific misconduct? Have you seen examples of it?
  2. Lecture about scientific misconduct
  3. Discussion of plagiarism
  4. Lecture about plagiarism, with interactive examples
  5. Discussion of plagiarism
  6. Students’ ideas about how to avoid plagiarism
  7. Further discussion of plagiarism and questions about plagiarism

Readings (Optional)

Teaching Materials

Supplemental Resources

Assignments

  • Students are asked to bring any examples of questions they have had in the past about research misconduct or plagiarism, and to be prepared with questions about any ongoing or anticipated issues in their research. 

Summaries of Objectives

  1. Summarize the background and consequences of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study
    1. 599 illiterate African American sharecroppers were recruited for a study on syphilis treatment.  They were not given opportunity to provide informed consent and were not told whether or not they actually had syphilis (399 did, 200 didn’t).  Instead, they were all told that they had “bad blood” and could receive free treatment, a free meal, a free ride to the clinic, and $1,000 for a funeral if they died.  The study ran from 1932 through 1972, even though penicillin was the standard treatment for syphilis by 1947.  Despite the discovery of penicillin, the study was not shut down and participants were prevented from accessing other local treatment programs.  As awareness of this study spread, there was a public outcry and comparisons between the Tuskegee Experiment and the Nazis’ medical experimentation on concentration camp victims.  A class action lawsuit resulted in a $9M settlement, and in 1997, President Clinton publicly apologized to the remaining survivors.
  2. Describe the motivations to commit scientific misconduct
    1. Scientific misconduct occurs for a number of reasons, including: career pressure, believing that one “knows the right answer”, money, the ability to get away with it, ignorance of the rules, and inadequate mentoring.
  3. List the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors uniform requirements for authorship credit
    1. Authorship credit should be given to individuals meeting all of the following criteria:
      1. They have made substantial contributions to conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data
      2. They have drafted the article or revised it critically for important intellectual content
      3. They have made final approval of the version to be published
  4. Compose a list of potential conflicts of interest for their study based on JAMA’s definition of a conflict of interest
    1. A conflict of interest “may exist when an author (the author’s institution or employer) has financial or personal relationships with affiliations that could influence (or bias) the author’s decisions, work, or manuscript.”  In publication, potential conflicts of interest must be listed in the Acknowledgments (or other relevant) section.  Students should consider their institutions, employers, and community partners when composing a list of conflicts of interest.
  5. Define plagiarism and self-plagiarism, and discuss strategies to avoid plagiarism.
    1. Plagiarism may be defined as including “both the theft or misappropriation of intellectual property and the substantial unattributed textual copying of another’s work.  It does not include authorship or credit disputes.” (Office of Research Integrity).
    2. Plagiarism may also be defined as “taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgement, and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver.” (American Association of University Professors, September/October, 1989).
    3. Self-Plagiarism, according to M. Roig, includes all of the following:
      1. “The publication of what is essentially the same paper in more than one journal, but without any indication that the paper has been published elsewhere (i.e., redundant and duplicate publication)”
      2. “The partitioning of a large study which should have been reported in a single paper into smaller published studies (i.e., salami-slicing)”
      3. Copyright infringement
      4. Text recycling

Assessment Data and Learner Feedback

  • Participant comprehension is best assessed by providing ample time for discussion of each objective.

Teaching Tips/FAQ

  • Engaging students around scientific misconduct is relatively straightforward, because students have many questions. There needs to be a great deal of time for discussion. Too many slides can be an impediment to discussion. Discussion of plagiarism, especially using real examples, can raise tensions within students as they consider whether they have plagiarized. Discussing strategies for avoiding plagiarism is extremely important, as many students have never been taught the skills to avoid plagiarism and may consider it a minor “style” issue rather than a major issue in scientific misconduct.

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