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Government Science

NSF Audit Finds Numerous Cases of Alleged Plagiarism 44

sciencehabit writes "The National Science Foundation (NSF) is investigating nearly 100 cases of suspected plagiarism drawn from a single year's worth of proposals funded by the agency. The cases grow out of an internal examination by NSF's Office of Inspector General (IG) of every proposal that NSF funded in fiscal year 2011. James Kroll, head of administrative investigations within the IG's office, tells ScienceInsider that applying plagiarism software to NSF's entire portfolio of some 8000 awards made that year resulted in a 'hit rate' of 1% to 1.5%. 'My group is now swamped,' he says about his staff of six investigators."
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NSF Audit Finds Numerous Cases of Alleged Plagiarism

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  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @06:55PM (#43121713) Journal

    There is a difference.

    • I wonder if they're comparing these grants to other grants by the same researcher in different years? If you're studying gene X which is known to function in biochemical process Y there are probably a limited number of good ways to word your explanation of that fact in the introduction to grant application after grant application.
      • by brillow ( 917507 )

        I suspect this is what happens. Scientists rarely write a new grant entirely from scratch.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      The group in question extrapolated that roughly 3% of the proposals had instplagiarism. There's no way that 97% of the proposals aren't using boilerplate.
  • by accessbob ( 962147 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @06:59PM (#43121741)
    When researcher's lives are ruled by arbitrary metrics on volumes of papers published, people will cheat. It's certainly true in computing. Try picking a few papers from the ACM Digital Library and start following the references. Rehash after rehash of other people's papers. Particularly their own...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Rehashing one's own work isn't considered misconduct. If it were, a lot of researchers have been guilty of submitting "new" papers that were about 95 percent rehashes of their previous work, plus (maybe) some new result that might hardly be worth reading about.

      • Republishing your old work or resubmitting old proposals is scientific misconduct because it wastes resources by forcing other scientists to perform duplicate reviews.

      • Well, you are usually required to sign a disclaimer that the research is yours, original, and not published elsewhere. After the 5th paper on the same data-set, that claim gets a bit thin.

        And that is where the plagiarism tends to kick in: the papers get padded out with other people's findings.

  • "suspected" (Score:5, Informative)

    by feenberg ( 201582 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @07:00PM (#43121755)

    It isn't really a scandal until the cases of plagiarism are confirmed. I once tested some plagiarism software on published academic economics, and it produced many false positives, many of which required some knowledge to interpret. Notice that a grant application may seem to be a somewhat "safer" place to plagiarize, since only a few people will see the application. However, those few might well include the borrowed from author - the granting agency will be sending the proposal for review to many researchers who have written on the topic before..

    • And might not grant proposal writers be purposefully including snippets of text or stylistic flourishes or word-usage choices characteristic of those high-level academicians whom they expect to be reviewing the grant proposal?? If they do, the reviewer might see that the proposer has some genius in them, since they are obviously on the correct trail and path!!! If they used techniques or buzzwords that are not "au courant" or standard canon fodder [joke, joke, pun intended], then they'd be seen as idiots.
    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      You can't really apply this to grant proposals. Grant proposals will often be submitted several times, sometimes with minor corrections and changes to the same and different agencies and even the same grant will be re-submitted by a different researcher with more 'credentials' so the grant can go through. It isn't easy to get a grant and there is a lot of time wasted in getting grants, I would say close to 70% of a researchers time is involving paperwork (getting grants, getting audited, rewriting grants, r

  • Are they just using a web service such as I've used that for classroom assignments, and it has a rather high rate of false positives - even when factoring out direct quotes that students love to use to much to fill space.

  • How much self plagiarism and how much false positives?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder what the plagiarism rate was in applications that did not receive funding.

  • I'd love to help any way I can.

  • The cases grow out of an internal examination by NSF's Office of Inspector General (IG) of every proposal that NSF funded in fiscal year 2011

    It seems to me they are running the tool against things that are already funded. Wouldn't it make more sense to run the tool when recieving any proposal and then pass on the results to whoever is deciding if a proposal should be funded?

  • I think the correct usage is "found so many cases of suspected plagiarism"(A) rather than "found so many cases of alleged plagiarism" (B).

    B would imply that so many allegations of plagiarism was found, rather than so many instances of possible plagiarism. I think alleged is fast becoming the most misused word in American, right next to "begs the question".

    • by slew ( 2918 )

      Alleged: adjective
      Suspected: past participle

      I'm going with alleged, until the multitude of allegations of instances plagiarism progresses into a confirmed, or non-confirmed state.

      Of course it begs the question why one would think the correct usage might be "suspected", right?

  • A plagiarism hit rate of only 1 to 1.5 percent is not that high, considering that many research grants are based upon the same core studies, use similar methods (e.g. "We will use a mass spectrometer with 8 plates of xxx"), and refer to prior studies in much the same way.

    You call it plagiarism. I call it a good reason to retest your plagiarism software.

    A more serious problem is duplication of human subjects in study designs. Many people with rare or recessive genetic problems like to volunteer for research

    • Also, on further consideration, one of the problems with scientific research recently, is the lack of "duplicative" studies.

      Seeing results from only one lab of a scientific hypothesis only proves that it deserves further study. To study it, and "prove" it, you need to replicate (duplicate) the study.

      We should, in fact, see MORE studies with similar wording and language, in that they should have more than one study test the hypothesis. A study of the same condition should have a high "plagiarism" rate, since

  • Let's hope that such detection techniques can soon be applied to Patent Office applications too :-)
  • It's hard to tell from the summary or article what is going on here. I suspect a decent fraction of these may be people submitting proposals under different programs for similar or overlapping projects. Sometimes a scientific project will kind of fall between programs and people will submit more-or-less the same proposal to two different parts of the NSF, hoping for funding from one. Given the low funding rate and the great deal of uncertainty about funding (thanks, oh-so-functional Congress!) it is pre

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