Thursday, May 2, 2013

On Academic Fraud

Academic fraud is not the most pleasant of topics. Regrettably, it does occur. George Leef has a few thoughts on the subject. There are a certain number of mistakes that occur in academic research. These can be attributed to a number of causes (of which I list only a few):
  1. Human error: Humans make mistakes. It is a simple fact of life, and many of the mistakes are unintentional.
  2. Mistaken assumptions: Any endeavor presupposes a number of assumptions, many of which we do not realize we are making. Some of those assumptions may be wrong. If we are explicit about our assumptions we have a better chance of identifying which ones are mistaken. Unfortunately, we cannot be explicit about all of our assumptions.
  3. Mistaken observations: For whatever reasons, data can be recorded incorrectly. It is hard enough to tell when we make a mistake, it is often harder to say why someone else made a mistake, particularly when that individual is no longer around to ask.
  4. Wrong filter: We may be looking at a problem from a certain point of view. We may think we have the data explained but we may be looking at a problem the wrong way.
  5. Academic fraud: This is where individuals involved in research either invent their data or egregiously distort it so that it fits their theory. (Plagiarism is a separate case because the data may not be fraudulent, only the claim that it represents the author's or authors' own work.)
There are other possibilities as well. Fraudulent academic work deserves to be called out.

[Addendum: Another report on this incident with thoughts about  how the system encourages academic fraud and works against its discovery. The follow-up is a bit more meaty than the initial one.]