SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • duplicate publication;
  • ethical standards;
  • plagiarism;
  • retractions;
  • scientific fraud;
  • scientific misconduct;
  • self-plagiarism

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

In recent years the incidence of scientific misconduct has increased. While the direct responsibility lies with the individual researcher, the educational role of mentors and research institutions needs rethinking and renewal. Researchers, principal investigators, departments, institutions, funding agencies, chemical societies, publishers, scientific journal editors, referees and editorial board members all have responsibilities in order to maintain the integrity of chemistry within the scientific community and to restore the confidence of the general public in chemistry as a responsible contributor to the solutions of the global problems facing mankind in this century.


1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

Chemistry is a basic science with beauty and fascination in itself. At the same time, chemistry is closely involved in society, providing the foundations for areas of applied science such as nutrition, medicine, environment, energy and materials. Collaborations with other disciplines are resulting in many breakthroughs both in the areas of basic and applied research. As chemists, we have a fundamental role to play in society; maintaining our credibility in society depends on our scientific rigor and integrity.

Chemistry has a long tradition. We did not learn to be chemists solely by reading books; when we launch our careers as young scientists, we are heavily influenced by our first mentors. As Polanyi wrote in 1946, “Science is what scientists do.”1 Later in 1964 he wrote, “The authority of science resides in scientific opinion. Science exists as a body of wide-ranging authoritative knowledge only so long as this consensus of scientists continues. It lives and grows only so long as this consensus can resolve the perpetual tension between discipline and originality. Every succeeding generation is sovereign in reinterpreting the tradition of science. With it rests the fatal responsibility of the self-renewal of scientific convictions and methods. To speak of science and its continued progress is to profess faith in its fundamental principles and in the integrity of scientists in applying and amending these principles.”1

2 Retracted Articles

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

In recent years there has been growing concern about whether this “self-renewal of scientific convictions and methods” is succeeding. The study carried out by Fang, Steen and Casadevall of all 2,047 retracted biomedical and life-science research publications indexed by PubMed to May 3, 2012, revealed that only 21.3% were due to error, while 67.4% were attributable to scientific misconduct: fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%).2 This contradicts a common assumption that most retractions are due to errors that have been subsequently discovered. The authors wrote, “Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimate of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased ∼10-fold since 1975.”2 Secondary sources used by the authors to determine the true causes of retraction included the United States Office of Research Integrity3 and Retraction Watch.4

The geographic patterns in the cases of misconduct were also surprising. Significantly, the ethics of individual authors do not correlate with the quality of the science in the countries in which they work. Retractions due to fraud or suspected fraud were most prevalent in countries with long and honorable scientific traditions, the USA, Germany and Japan; these were followed by China, UK and India, in that order. Plagiarism was most prevalent in the USA, China and India. For duplicate publication, China led the USA, followed by India.

The number of retractions due to fraud and error correlated significantly with the impact factors of the journals: the higher the impact factor of the journal, the more cases of retractions due to fraud or error. In contrast, the mean impact factors of the journals retracting due to plagiarism and duplicate publication were much lower.

There is reason to fear that the ethical standards of science have deteriorated worldwide. Although trust in science remains solid, the scientific community is losing its credibility in the general public. Now we see many established researchers (fortunately no chemists) that are leaving academia because of their suspected misconduct. Why is this happening? Among other things, excessive pursuit of commercial interests by research sponsors appears to sometimes entice biomedical researchers into acting as honored, guest or even ghost authors. The content is often significantly biased.

3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

Most of the articles studied by Fang, Steen and Casadevall2 were not in chemistry. But there is no special reason to claim that chemistry is an exceptionally responsible science. Recent prominent cases of misconduct in chemistry, such as that of Bengü Sezen,5 are a warning that we should consider the problem seriously and take appropriate action. It would be fatally naive to think that these are isolated cases rather than symptoms of a broader problem. As stated in a Nature Chemistry editorial on scientific misconduct,6 “When it comes to research misconduct, burying one’s head in the sand and pretending it doesn′t exist is the worst possible plan.”

Standards of ethical conduct for publications in chemistry have been elaborated by major societies, such as the American Chemical Society7 and the European Association for Chemical and Molecular Sciences.8 These give important guidelines for editors, authors and referees. “CSE’s White Paper on Promoting Integrity in Scientific Journal Publications, 2012 Update”9 gives a more comprehensive set of guidelines. This 81-page document includes the responsibilities of research sponsors and a chapter on “Identification of Research Misconduct and Guidelines for Action”. The fact is that although ethical guidelines regarding publication have existed for a long time, the increase in scientific misconduct clearly indicates that a more comprehensive approach is needed. The InterAcademy Council and IAP – the global network of science academies have recently published such an approach in the paper, “Responsible Conduct in the Global Research Enterprise”.10 This excellent 45-page policy report outlines the responsibilities of researchers, research institutions, public and private funding agencies, journals, and national scientific academies, and includes recommendations at each level.

International reports such as from the IAC/IAP need to be considered carefully by national institutions, scientific societies and funding agencies, and the recommendations need to be implemented locally. As scientific activities span the globe, any discrepancies of standards and ethics between countries can lead to misunderstandings or the failure of young scientists to understand the significance of the global standards of science.

When misconduct reaches the stage of publication and eventual retraction, it is in fact too late. Action must be taken by journals and publishers, as will be discussed below, but in order to reverse the apparent rapid increase in publishing misconduct, measures need to be taken at a much earlier stage. Coming back to Polanyi, the responsibility for the “self-renewal of scientific convictions and methods” lies with the education provided and example set by mentors and departments.

4 Principal Investigators and Departments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

The research supervisor – group leader, principal investigator (PI), however he or she is called – is the main person to pass on the tradition of science to the next generation. Senior scientists have an obligation to instill strong ethical and moral values in their progeny. The responsibility of research supervisors was forcefully expounded by Rudy Baum in his C&EN editorial concerning the Sezen/Sames case.5a However, the education of graduate students should not be the sole responsibility of the research supervisor; each department should have a collective responsibility for the education of its students and for the activities of its professors. It is regrettable to see that in many departments the professors each form their individual kingdoms with a minimum of departmental cohesion. The IAC/IAP report contains the following recommendation:10

“Research institutions need to establish clear, well-communicated rules that define irresponsible conduct and ensure that all researchers, research staff, and students are trained in the application of these rules to research. They should establish effective mechanisms for addressing allegations of research misconduct. Research institutions also need to create an environment that fosters research integrity through education, training, and mentoring and by embracing incentives that deter irresponsible actions.”

We think that every department should have a required course in scientific ethics for graduate students. All of the research staff should be involved in order to set a good example and demonstrate that no one stands above the ethical requirements of responsible science.

5 Incentives to Cheat

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

When the careers of students depend entirely on the relationship to their professor, and only successful results count, then there is a large temptation for abuse on both sides. The IAC/IAP report names honesty, fairness, objectivity, reliability, skepticism, accountability and openness as the fundamental values of responsible research conduct.10 When researchers, whether students or PI’s, are judged principally by their production of successful results, then the motivation for misconduct is high. This point is emphasized in a New York Times article by Carl Zimmer,11 in which the “winner-take-all” culture of science with a “disproportionate system of rewards” is criticized.

There is an overemphasis in importance of publishing in high-impact journals. The significance of truly original research is often not recognized for several decades. Over the short term, much ado is made over research reports published in the top journals, before their significance has been established. Furthermore, the range of importance of publications, even in the top journals, can vary greatly. When career and the receipt of research grants are overly linked to the impact factors of the journals in which one publishes, the incentive to get published in these journals by fraudulent means is high. Then it is not surprising that the higher the impact factor of the journal, the more retractions there are due to fraud.2

The IAC/IAP report recommendation is that institutions should emphasize excellence and creativity; overemphasis on the number of citations or the impact factors of journals in which a researcher has published “can be misleading and can distort incentive systems in research in harmful ways.”10 This applies just as well to the incentive systems of private and public funding agencies.

6 The Role of Scientific Journals

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

When misconduct in scientific publishing occurs, authors, reviewers, editors and publishers have all been involved; the result is to deceive the public which supports academic research activities. In reality, a large amount of misconduct does exist and it remains unchecked. Scientific journals, including ASC, could be the victims but at the same time are also the means by which publishing misconduct is carried out. Ethical guidelines for scientific journals include responsibilities not only for authors, but also for editors and referees.7,8 Editors and referees have to assume that the data presented are not fraudulent. Nevertheless, the publication procedures in journals should be such that the ethical guidelines are made clear and that high ethical standards are maintained. Editors need to be sensitive to the fact that as long as research supervisors and institutes fail in their responsibility to educate students about proper ethical conduct, and sometimes do not set good examples themselves, there will be many young authors who are not aware that there is a problem or think that taking shortcuts is part of the game. Editors need to make it clear to their authors that ethical questions are taken very seriously.

The Internet has become a major medium of communication in research and is contributing to the democratization of the global science community. Society is conditioned to consider that the printed word is valid; unfortunately, this trust cannot be extended to the Internet. Scientific results put onto the Internet without peer review have a serious problem with credibility. The American Chemical Society guidelines contain a section on publishing outside the scientific literature, but more comprehensive ethical guidelines are needed for publishing in the social media. More harmful is the publishing of irresponsible criticism and slander, even in the blogs of highly respected journals (see the Comments to the C&EN article on Breslow, cited below). Ethical guidelines condemn personal criticism and yet one often sees unscientific accusations, rumor or innuendo in the Internet. The mass media tend towards sensationalism and are not considered scientific, but irresponsible personal accusations on the Internet in an alleged scientific context are damaging to the individuals and to the entire image of science.

7 Fraud

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

Fraud is hard to detect in a manuscript and is usually discovered only after publication, if at all. This should lead to retraction of the article. Journal editors are not in the position to conduct investigations of fraud; this is the responsibility of the research institute or appropriate professional bodies. In her excellent book, Irene Hames has a chapter on misconduct, which starts with a “Golden Rule”: “Suspected or alleged misconduct must not be ignored.”12 It is our experience that there is “big fraud” and “little fraud”. The former occurs when a researcher falsifies data or presents results for experiments that were never carried out. Such grave cases of misconduct, when discovered, lead to serious consequences including the termination of the person’s career and revoking of their doctoral title, as was the case with Jan Hendrik Schön.13 The ultimate test of research results is that they can be repeated by others. Bengü Sezen was eventually discovered in part because students in the same group could not repeat the experiments she had reported. The failure of attempts to repeat an experiment does not always result from fraud, and care must be taken until the cause can be determined. In many cases, non-reproducibility is the result of error, such as unknown contaminants in the reagents or solvents used. There are basic precautionary measures that journals can take. Journals should require that sufficient experimental detail is provided so that the experiments can be repeated. Also, full experimental data and copies of the spectra of all products and chromatographic traces used to determine the enantiomeric ratio (er) should be required in a supporting information file.14 Suspicion of fraud should be followed up when the data presented are self-contradictory or when the spectra appear to be manipulated. With the sophisticated tools available, manipulation of graphics and spectra is possible, but tools are also available to detect such manipulations.15

It is hard to understand the logic behind committing fraud in spite of the apparent short-term gains. Scientific progress is achieved on the basis of previously published results. Fraudulent results cannot obtain a place of significance in the advancement of science, because they are not reproducible. Therefore, scientific fraud is a suicidal act for the career of the perpetrator. Integrity is an essential requirement for conducting scientific research.

Cases of “little fraud” are much more common. We have often seen spectra presented in the supporting information that turn out to be the same spectra that the authors had published in a previous publication; this is not plagiarism, but fraud. Some researchers seem to think, “I know what I got, so why take another spectrum?” First, the spectrum is not only a proof of structure, but also a proof of purity. Publishing a spectrum that is not the spectrum of the product prepared in the reported experiment is fraud. When we discover this at ASC, the manuscript is usually rejected with a warning to the author. Unfortunately there are still journals that do not require full experimental details or the spectra of products; if enough details are not provided so that the work can be repeated, the scientific value of such a publication needs to be questioned. This is also true for communications, which are now no longer “preliminary”, but are the definitive publications of research results with full details given in a supporting information file.

Another form of misrepresented results is reporting yields that are inflated or unrealistic. Every author reporting yields in publications should read the account by Wernerova and Hudlicky: “On the Practical Limits of Determining Isolated Product Yields and Ratios of Stereoisomers”.16 When a new synthetic method is described, authors often provide a table of examples where the product yields, determined by HPLC or GC, are frequently claimed to be>99% or 100%. The researchers observed only peaks for products. However, the values refer merely to “conversion or consumption of starting materials” and not “product yields” unless the calibration was made by co-injection of authentic samples. The possible formation of highly polar or polymeric by-products is ignored. Furthermore, product yield, when calibrated and reported as it is, should sometimes exceed 100% due to the inherent experimental error, but we don′t see such cases for “some” reason. This is unnatural and might be manipulated.

Another form of non-scientific conduct is the use of subjective superlatives to exaggerate the importance of the work reported. We have collected a list of buzzwords – novel, new, innovative, original, first, highly, facile – which generally have no quantitative basis in the work reported. As pointed out by Hudlicky in a letter to the editor of C&EN,17 “This proliferation would suggest that even if 1% of such claims were true, there would be no problems in organic chemistry left unsolved.” Equally deplorable is the subjective exaggeration of the limitations of other work in the field. We consider that objectivity and fairness are a requirement for the description of one’s own work and that of competitors. Indeed, such exaggerated statements of self-praise or criticism have the opposite effect of that desired: they damage the reputation of the perpetrator.

A problem, which is not clearly fraud, but does not fall into the category of error either, is the presentation of conclusions that are not sufficiently supported by the data presented. Often this is a matter of insufficient training, but it is not acceptable in the research literature and should be caught by editors and referees. We give just two examples here.

The structures of organometallic catalysts and reagents are often overly speculative. The structural proposal is often empirically made, merely based on the stoichiometry of the precursory ingredients. In fact, the characterization of these useful catalysts/reagents is difficult, because of the instability, sensitivity, and equilibration with other species. Reaction of MR3 and three equivalents of R′OH is expected to form M(OR′)3+3 RH; reaction of MX and M′R would give MR+M′X or MM′XR. Are these generally true? Since the proposed structures will be stored permanently in secondary references, we must be careful. Our credibility should not be lost in future generations. Such organometallic structures should be defined clearly as “empirical”, “imaginary” or “hypothetical”. On the other hand, we notice that structurally well-elucidated organometallics are not often useful in organic synthesis.

A second example is that researchers often overly rely on computation in interpreting a reaction mechanism. The conclusions derived from an unrealistic assumption are far from truth, and confuse and mislead the community. It is worse than nothing. The problem is not the quality of the calculations, but arises from the abuse of a powerful tool by inexperienced researchers. We all know that organic synthesis with wrong starting materials will never result in the correct target product. We should appreciate solid experimental evidence more than frivolous computations. This prevailing trend is harmful to the community.

8 Plagiarism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

Plagiarism is a more complex form of scientific misconduct, for which some types are graver than others. Using other people’s ideas without giving due credit and claiming credit for them is a serious offence, as was shown in the Cordova case.18 A lesser form of plagiarism, but nevertheless a serious one, is intentionally not citing other people’s work on which new research is based. Referees are in the best position to determine if the authors have put their results into the context of other work in the field. Nevertheless, almost every scientist feels that their work is not cited sufficiently, and editors have to judge if a referee is acting entirely objectively or if they are asking for their own work to be cited in a self-serving fashion. A second form of plagiarism is taking blocks of text from other publications and publishing them as your own. This is more flagrant in the social sciences, but also often occurs in chemistry in the introductory parts of manuscripts. Often the ideas that are repeated are the same that have been given in hundreds of publications previously: biological or synthetic significance of a given class of compounds, the significance of a given type of reaction, etc. No one has a copyright to such common ideas; nevertheless, cut and paste of segments of text from another publication is plagiarism and violates copyright laws. It is entirely understandable that a non-English speaker finds an elegant piece of text and thinks that that expresses exactly what they want to say; understandable, but, sorry, it is just not allowed. On the other hand, small pieces of text – parts of sentences for example – should not bother anyone when one sees them repeated.

Self-plagiarism also has various forms. In the last century, before electronic supporting information was required for communications in top journals, we had “preliminary communications” without full experimental details. These were supposed to be followed by a full paper, which repeated and expanded on the preliminary communication given full experimental details. The possibility of abuse existed then, when no full paper followed. Now the problem is that the repetition of published results in a full paper can constitute self-plagiarism. A full paper reports a more complete study than that in a communication, but results previously reported in communications need to be clearly identified as previously published results.

Another form of self-plagiarism is to cut and paste large segments of text from previous publications. The case of the Breslow publications offers important insights into the question of self-plagiarism.19 Ronald Breslow is one of the most highly respected chemists alive, and has made an enormous contribution to chemistry in his distinguished career of over 50 years. He published three personal review articles on the origins of homochirality. Many people are irritated by attacks on Breslow, since it is the right of every scientist to repeat their own ideas in different contexts, especially in talks or review articles. Indeed Breslow was unaware of any misconduct, since he has specifically made changes so as not to infringe on copyright laws. Nevertheless, the invited Perspective in JACS was withdrawn “at the request of the author due to similarity to his previously published reviews..”20 This is a difficult matter. “Self-plagiarism” can in fact be highly beneficial to the community. Eminent scientists travel worldwide and present almost the same lecture to many audiences; the goal is to have the largest possible dissemination of the ideas and results. The bottom line in publishing similar overviews should be whether it serves the advancement of science by reaching different and larger audiences. Copyright law needs to be respected, but other solutions in the interest of science should be sought to facilitate the widest dissemination of seminal reports.

In conclusion, the repetition of a sentence or parts of a sentence is not considered plagiarism or self-plagiarism.

9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

Duplicate or redundant publication is when the same manuscript or closely related manuscripts are published without cross reference. Some journals, including ASC, contain statements in the submission form that need to be answered affirmatively by authors. The ASC form contains the following:

“I confirm that the manuscript has been submitted solely to this journal and is not published, in press, or submitted elsewhere.”

“I have informed the Editor in my cover letter of any related manuscripts that have been submitted or are soon to be submitted to any journal.”

The reality is that such questions are often checked off without being understood or taken seriously. Only during the reviewing process do we generally discover in some cases that the author has published closely related work which is not even cited in the manuscript submitted to ASC. Editorial offices of some journals, including the ASC, have access to CrossCheck, to check electronically for plagiarism and duplicate publication.21

10 Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1 The Respected Tradition of Chemistry
  4. 2 Retracted Articles
  5. 3 Standards of Ethics in Chemistry
  6. 4 Principal Investigators and Departments
  7. 5 Incentives to Cheat
  8. 6 The Role of Scientific Journals
  9. 7 Fraud
  10. 8 Plagiarism
  11. 9 Duplicate or Redundant Publication
  12. 10 Conclusion

The recent cases of scientific misconduct justify a serious concern that the integrity of the scientific community is deteriorating. As scientists we must be absolutely honest. Otherwise, we will soon lose the credit which has been established by our predecessors. Research is done by humans, and to err is human. Nevertheless, as scientists we have a special responsibility to society and to the tradition of science. Career pressure on researchers and the high speed of progress cannot be the excuse for carelessness or misconduct; integrity is a cornerstone of science. An appreciation for the significance of ethic conduct and efforts to maintain it are needed to maintain our credibility in the eyes of the public. Laws and regulations alone are not enough to address this issue effectively. Researchers must return to their roots and must be firm in their resolution to foster research integrity. They must be made aware that research misconduct is a betrayal of everything science stands for. Nevertheless, too many rules and administrative procedures can hobble the researcher and make it difficult to carry out sound science. Our goal should be that researchers are able to work in an open atmosphere of trust, in which they can apply themselves with diligence and enthusiasm, so that chemistry can continue to be a responsible contributor to the solutions of the global problems facing mankind in this century.