Archive for: March, 2010

Preventing Plagiarism.
Especially in student papers, plagiarism is an issue that it seems just won't go away. However, instructors cannot just give up and permit plagiarism without giving up most of their pedagogical goals and ideals. As tempting a behavior as this may be (at least to some students, if not to all), it is our duty to smack it down.
Is there any effective way to deliver a preemptive smackdown to student plagiarists? That's the question posed by a piece of research, "Is There an Effective Approach to Deterring Students from Plagiarizing?" by Lidija Bilic-Zulle, Josip Azman, Vedran Frkovic, and Mladen Petrovecki, published in 2008 in Science and Engineering Ethics.
To introduce their research, the authors write:

Academic plagiarism is a complex issue, which arises from ignorance, opportunity, technology, ethical values, competition, and lack of clear rules and consequences. ... The cultural characteristics of academic setting strongly influence students' behavior. In societies where plagiarism is implicitly or even explicitly tolerated (e.g. authoritarian regimes and post-communist countries), a high rate of plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct may be expected. However, even in societies that officially disapprove of such behavior (e.g. western democracies), its prevalence is disturbing. (140)

Here, there is some suggestion of potentially relevant cultural factors that may make plagiarism attractive -- and not the cultural factors I tend to hear about here in California, on the Pacific Rim. But maybe we can extend Tolstoy's observation about how each unhappy marriage is unhappy in its own way to recognize the variety of cultural contexts that spawn dishonest students.
And this is not just a matter of the interactions between students and teachers. Bilic-Zulle et al. point to plagiarism in school as something like a gateway drug for unethical behavior in one's professional life -- so potentially, reducing academic dishonesty could have important consequences beyond saving professors headaches.
In any case, the big question the researchers take on is how to reduce the prevalence. Is it effective to emphasize the importance of academic integrity, or to threaten harsh penalties if plagiarism is detected?

Continue Reading »

14 responses so far

Problems in the scientific literature: vigilance and victim-blaming.

Mar 30 2010 Published by under Communication, Misconduct, Tribe of Science

That post about how hard it is to clean up the scientific literature has spawned an interesting conversation in the comments. Perhaps predictably, the big points of contention seem to be how big a problem a few fraudulent papers in the literature really are (given the self-correcting nature of science and all that), and whether there larger (and mistaken) conclusions people might be drawing about science on the basis of a small fraction of the literature.
I will note just in passing that we do not have reliable numbers on what percentage of the papers published in the scientific literature are fraudulent. We may be able to come up with reliable measures of the number of published papers that have been discovered to be fraudulent, but there's not a good procedure to accurately count the ones that succeed in fooling us.
Set that worry aside, and the legitimate worry that "little frauds" that might not do too much to deform the shape of the scientific literature might end up having significant effects on the scientific career scorekeeping. Let's take on the big question:
How much of a problem is it to leave the scientific literature uncorrected? Who is it a problem for?

Continue Reading »

9 responses so far

What causes scientific misconduct?
In the last post, we looked at a piece of research on how easy it is to clean up the scientific literature in the wake of retractions or corrections prompted by researcher misconduct in published articles. Not surprisingly, in the comments on that post there was some speculation about what prompts researchers to commit scientific misconduct in the first place.
As it happens, I've been reading a paper by Mark S. Davis, Michelle Riske-Morris, and Sebastian R. Diaz, titled "Causal Factors Implicated in Research Misconduct: Evidence from ORI Case Files", that tries to get a handle on that very question.
The authors open by making a pitch for serious empirical work on the subject of misconduct:

[P]olicies intended to prevent and control research misconduct would be more effective if informed by a more thorough understanding of the problem's etiology. (396)

If you know what causes X, you ought to have a better chance of being able to create conditions that block X from being caused. This seems pretty sensible to me.
Yet, the authors note, scientists, policy makers, and others seem perfectly comfortable speculating on the causes of scientific misconduct despite the lack of a well-characterized body of relevant empirical evidence about these causes. We have plenty of anecdata, but that's not quite what we'd like to have to ground our knowledge claims.

Continue Reading »

8 responses so far

How hard is it to clean up the scientific literature?
Science is supposed to be a project centered on building a body of reliable knowledge about the universe and how various pieces of it work. This means that the researchers contributing to this body of knowledge -- for example, by submitting manuscripts to peer reviewed scientific journals -- are supposed to be honest and accurate in what they report. They are not supposed to make up their data, or adjust it to fit the conclusion they were hoping the data would support. Without this commitment, science turns into creative writing with more graphs and less character development.
Because the goal is supposed to be a body of reliable knowledge upon which the whole scientific community can draw to build more knowledge, it's especially problematic when particular pieces of the scientific literature turn out to be dishonest or misleading. Fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism are varieties of dishonesty that members of the scientific community look upon as high crimes. Indeed, they are activities that are defined as scientific misconduct and (at least in theory) prosecuted vigorously.
You would hope that one consequence of identifying scientists who have made dishonest contributions to the scientific literature would be that those dishonest contributions would be removed from that literature. But whether that hope is realized is an empirical question -- one taken up by Anne Victoria Neale, Justin Northrup, Rhonda Dailey, Ellen Marks, and Judith Abrams in an article titled "Correction and use of biomedical literature affected by scientific misconduct" published in 2007 in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics. Here's how Neale et al. frame their research:

Continue Reading »

23 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: screen-time or scream-time.

Mar 26 2010 Published by under Kids and science

Earlier this week, the younger Free-Ride offspring "made a bad decision" about time utilization at the after school program, electing to play outside and do a project before doing homework, meaning the homework was still unfinished when I arrived to fetch the sprogs.
The standard consequence for this is, apparently, one of the greatest horrors that can be visited upon a third grader: the loss of screen-time (which in the Free-Ride household covers television, computers, and hand-held game systems).

Continue Reading »

7 responses so far

Common ground and deeply held differences: a reply to Bruins for Animals.

In a post last month, I noted that not all (maybe even not many) supporters of animal rights are violent extremists, and that Bruins for Animals is a group committed to the animal rights position that was happy to take a public stand against the use of violence and intimidation to further the cause of animal liberation.
On Wednesday, Kristy Anderson (the co-founder of Bruins for Animals), Ashley Smith (the president), and Jill Ryther (the group's advisor) posted a critical response to my post. In the spirit of continuing dialogue, I'd like to respond to that response.
They write:

AR activists can rightly accept praise and credit for encouraging the two sides to come together in what was an unprecedented public and civil dialogue. However, one glaring and rather twisted irony too often overlooked is the fact that those very same participants who speak against aggressive campaigns against the animal experimentation industry and who are quick to praise AR advocates' stance on nonviolence are themselves engaged in (or are supporters of) violence and intimidation towards sentient beings on a daily basis.

Continue Reading »

23 responses so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: science fair questions.

Mar 19 2010 Published by under Kids and science

Earlier this week, I got to judge projects at a Science Fair, which, as usual, was loads of fun.
This year, however, owing to budget cuts and staffing cuts and things like that, there will be no science fair at the sprogs' elementary school. We are wistful about this, especially after the fun we had at their science fair last year. But just because there's not a science fair this year doesn't mean the sprogs are without questions they'd like to explore with science fair projects. As they were flitting about with their other activities, I got each of them to give me a list of three such questions.
From the elder Free-Ride offspring:

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Recent search strings to ponder.

Our online world is searchable, but it seems likely than not all of our searches are destined to be fruitful.
Here are some searches that have recently brought people to this blog:

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

What's the point of peer review?

Once again, I'm going to "get meta" on that recent paper on blogs as a channel of scientific communication I mentioned in my last post. Here, the larger question I'd like to consider is how peer review -- the back and forth between authors and reviewers, mediated (and perhaps even refereed by) journal editors -- does, could, and perhaps should play out.
Prefacing his post about the paper, Bora writes:

First, let me get the Conflict Of Interest out of the way. I am on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Science Communication. I helped the journal find reviewers for this particular manuscript. And I have reviewed it myself. Wanting to see this journal be the best it can be, I was somewhat dismayed that the paper was published despite not being revised in any way that reflects a response to any of my criticisms I voiced in my review.

Bora's post, in other words, drew heavily on comments he wrote for the author of the paper to consider (and, presumably, to take into account in her revision of the manuscript) before it was published.
Since, as it turns out, the author didn't make revisions addressing Bora's criticisms that ended up in the published version of the paper, Bora went ahead and made those criticisms part of the (now public) discussion of the published paper. He still endorses those criticisms, so he chooses to share them with the larger audience the paper has now that it has been published.

Continue Reading »

17 responses so far

Do you want people to discuss your published work?

There's a recent paper on blogs as a channel of scientific communication that has been making the rounds. Other bloggers have discussed the paper and its methodology in some detail (including but not limited to Bora and DrugMonkey and Dr. Isis), so I'm not going to do that. Rather, I want to pull back and "get meta" with the blogospheric discussion of the paper, and especially the suggestion that it might be out of bounds for science bloggers (some of whom write the blogs that provided the data for the paper in question) to mount such a vigorous critique of a paper that was, as it turns out, authored by a graduate student.
So, let's consider the situation more generally:

Continue Reading »

27 responses so far

Older posts »