New Research Finds “‘Widespread Misattribution’ in Research Publications and Grant Proposals”
From the University of Alabama-Huntsville:
“Authorship and Citation Manipulation in Academic Research,” co-authored by Dr. Allen “Al” Wilhite and Dr. Eric Fong, has been published by PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science. Both men are professors in the College of Business at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), where Dr. Wilhite teaches economics and Dr. Fong teaches management.
“This is a significant extension of a previous study about editors who insist that authors add citations to articles in the editor’s journal – even though they weren’t used in the research – as a condition of publication,” says Dr. Wilhite, referring to the pair’s 2012 paper “Coercive Citation in Academic Publishing,” which appeared in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1212540).
This one expands the previous work in two dimensions. “First, rather than focus on just business and related social science disciplines, we looked at 18 different fields that also include science, engineering, and medicine,” says Dr. Fong. “Second, along with coercive citation, we looked at the addition of false investigators to grant proposals as well as honorary authorship and padded citations.”
To carry out the study, the pair applied for and received a $212,000 grant from the Office of Research Integrity, which oversees and directs public health service research integrity activities for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They then collected data via a series of surveys sent to more than 110,000 scholars across the academic universe.
As with their 2012 paper, what they found was a pattern of widespread misattribution in publications and in research proposals with significant variation by academic rank, discipline, sex, publication history, co-authors, and other factors. “Even though the majority of scholars disapprove of such tactics, many feel pressured to make such additions while others suggest that it is just the way the game is played,” says Dr. Wilhite.
Nevertheless, he is quick to add that all hope is not lost. “While it’s unlikely that this unethical behavior can be totally eliminated, most of our respondents say they want to play it straight,” he says. “By reducing the incentives of misbehavior, raising the costs of inappropriate attribution, and making some changes to the way we measure scientific contributions, we can expect a substantial portion of the community to go along.”
Read the Complete Research Article: “Authorship and Citation Manipulation in Academic Research”
Some scholars add authors to their research papers or grant proposals even when those individuals contribute nothing to the research effort. Some journal editors coerce authors to add citations that are not pertinent to their work and some authors pad their reference lists with superfluous citations. How prevalent are these types of manipulation, why do scholars stoop to such practices, and who among us is most susceptible to such ethical lapses? This study builds a framework around how intense competition for limited journal space and research funding can encourage manipulation and then uses that framework to develop hypotheses about who manipulates and why they do so. We test those hypotheses using data from over 12,000 responses to a series of surveys sent to more than 110,000 scholars from eighteen different disciplines spread across science, engineering, social science, business, and health care. We find widespread misattribution in publications and in research proposals with significant variation by academic rank, discipline, sex, publication history, co-authors, etc. Even though the majority of scholars disapprove of such tactics, many feel pressured to make such additions while others suggest that it is just the way the game is played. The findings suggest that certain changes in the review process might help to stem this ethical decline, but progress could be slow.
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Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.