Authorship and plagiarism

One issue that government agencies did not initially anticipate was that of authorship, including plagiarism and disputes over credit. Although the Darsee case focused attention on authorship practices in journals (for example, who should or should not be listed as a co-author), this issue was generally considered to fall outside federal jurisdiction. Plagiarism -the deceptive presentation of another's text or ideas as one's own55 - also seemed a peripheral concern, until government ethics investigators began to notice a significant number of complaints raised about plagiarism from (and in) grant proposals. Of the 75 allegations received by the National Science Foundation from 1 January 1989 to 31 March 1991, 40 dealt with plagiarism or other misappropriation of intellectual property.56 Between

1993 and 1997, only 5% of the 150 investigations completed by the Office of Research Integrity involved plagiarism, but authorship disputes have now increased in the biomedical sciences as well.57

The consequent discussions about responsible authorship and co-authorship have helped to emphasise how complex those roles have become in modern science. Disputes involving co-authors have been exacerbated by the dramatic rise in collaborative research projects and the number of co-authors per publication in all fields.58 By the mid-1990s, the Institute for Scientific Information was routinely describing hundreds of journal articles that listed over 100 authors apiece. The pressure to add more collaborators to a project - and hence to its publications - shows no indication of diminishing. To what extent has the value of authorship been eroded by these practices, and if the biomedical community cannot reverse the trend, then what rights and responsibilities should be assigned in the future to all partners in print?

Electronic publication - either through traditional journals or Internet circulation by individual authors - has changed the playing field dramatically. A computer can make plagiarism and alteration of photographic evidence relatively easy. Maintaining confidentiality and privacy, tracking errors in databases, and retrieving the effects of deliberate fraud and deception in data production and interpretation also defeat ordinary means of detection when there is no paper trail to follow, but only bits and bytes. Speed, in the new cyberlaboratory of global information networks, frequently outstrips wisdom and prudence. Monitoring electronic communications to guard against unethical practices involves an invasion of the private space of scientists, which seems initially unthinkable and yet may be one of the routes next proposed.

Prevention, especially through ethical mentoring of young scientists, thus takes on added importance. The development by scientific associations of clear standards and guidelines for conduct in the particular circumstances of their fields is an essential part of the process. In each research field, we will need to define new sets of scientific virtues that suit new times and new means of communication, but the transition period to the new era promises to be challenging for all stakeholders.

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