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Ethical Problems in Academic Research

A survey of doctoral candidates and faculty raises important questions about the ethical environment of graduate education and research

Judith Swazey, Melissa Anderson, Karen Louis

Scientific Misconduct

Figure 2. Two types of scientific misconduct . . .Click to Enlarge ImageOverall, one can infer from our data that, although misconduct is not rampant, examples of behavior that fall into the National Academy’s definition of science-related misconduct (Category 1) are not rare. Between six and nine percent of both students and faculty report that they have direct knowledge of faculty who have plagiarized or falsified data (Figure 2). Faculty reports of plagiarism and falsification by students are considerably higher; nearly a third of faculty claim to have observed student plagiarism.

On a more positive note, most of those who reported examples of plagiarism or falsification were aware of such misconduct by only one or two people. At the same time, however, we believe there is cause for concern in the finding that substantially higher percentages of graduate students than faculty in all four disciplines are believed to be engaging in these types of misconduct.

Figure 3. Reports of plagiarism . . .Click to Enlarge Image

There were significant differences between disciplines in reported knowledge of plagiarism (Figure 3). More than 40 percent of faculty in civil engineering and sociology have detected plagiarism among their graduate students. In civil engineering, 18 percent of faculty have noted plagiarism by their colleagues, a significantly higher proportion than in the other fields.

Exposure to data falsification (Figure 4) does not follow a clear disciplinary pattern. At 10 percent, civil Figure 4. Reports of falsifying . . .Click to Enlarge Imageengineering faculty report the highest level of "cooking" among their colleagues, but 12 percent of microbiology students say that their teachers have falsified data. Faculty report similar levels of falsification among chemistry, civil engineering and microbiology students, but sociologists report significantly less. Among the students, chemistry doctoral students note the greatest exposure to falsification by their peers (20 percent).

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