Plagiarism and the scientific paper

According to the <a href="http://blogs.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/
” target=”_blank”>Science Insider, the recent highly-publicized paper demonstrating how sperm could be made from human embryonic cells, published in Stem Cells and Development , has been retracted by the journal after charges of plagiarism were made against the paper’s corresponding author (who is also, I’m assuming, the principal investigator), Karim Nayernia of Newcastle University (UK).

Here is the story: <a href="http://blogs.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2009/07/journal-editor.html
” target=”_blank”>Journal Editor Retracts Paper on Sperm Made From Stem Cells

Graham Parker, editor-in-chief of Stem Cells and Development, told ScienceInsider that he received an email on 10 July from the editors of another journal, Biology of Reproduction, claiming that two paragraphs from Nayernia paper’s introduction were copied without attribution from a 2007 review article by Makoto Nagano of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, that was published in their journal. Surprisingly, Parker says, those introductory paragraphs describe previous work done by the authors of the new paper, raising questions about why such a passage would be plagiarized. Parker emailed Nayernia and the other paper’s authors asking for an explanation. “My hope was that a genuine mistake had occurred,” Parker said in an email to ScienceInsider.

Parker says Nayernia told him the offending text was inserted by a postdoctoral fellow. But Parker says the explanation he received was not consistent with an innocent mistake. “Once I had established that the suggested reason for the text’s inclusion was not being substantiated I decided to retract the paper” on 21 July, Parker says.

Many principal investigators in the context of science labs/large research teams likely face the same problem: large numbers of persons involved in an actual research project as well as the writing of a paper. Papers may result from contributions by a number of persons who are permanent parts of the team as well as more transient lab staff like grad students and post docs. But ultimately, the responsibility for the integrity of a published paper has to lie with someone on the team — and that should be the principal investigator (PI). As the editor of the journal notes, trying to explain the insertion of plagiarised material in a published paper by claiming a postdoctoral fellow inserted it isn’t an acceptable rationale or excuse. Clearly, it’s problematic to have a corresponding author/PI who claims to not have had ultimate control over the writing of a paper — no matter how many people were involved in the process. It’s hard not to wonder, in a case like this, how much control and monitoring was exerted over the actual research, in order to ensure not only scientific rigor but also ethical soundness.

~ by Nancy Walton on July 29, 2009.

One Response to “Plagiarism and the scientific paper”

  1. Great post! Your points are both comprehensive and balanced.

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