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IN DEPTH Plagiarism Galileo Famous Incidents of Scientific Fraud 26 CNRS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE P lagiarism is by definition the appropriation of content (an idea, text, photograph, illustration, etc.) without giving its author proper credit. It can be the result of simple negligence or genuine scientific dishonesty and takes many forms, ranging from self-plagiarism (which is quite common but whose consequences only affect the perpetrator) to the actual theft of intellectual property, which constitutes a fraud as serious as the fabrication or falsification of data. If new technology makes it easier to track ethical breaches, it is also at the heart of the problem: the Internet gives everyone access to a plethora of data that can be cut and pasted in an instant, while the increased use of anti-plagiarism software by institutions and publishers makes it possible to detect the most blatant violations. Yet all cannot be identified, as perpetrators can evade the detection algorithms by using synonyms and circumlocutions, adding non-breaking spaces and typographical errors, or citing sources in deceptive ways. Strange coincidences The Forget/Pangou case18 offers a recent and particularly devious example of plagiarism. Reading a manuscript that had been sent to him for review, the Dutch researcher Patrick Jansen thought it seemed familiar. For a good reason: 90% of it had been plagiarized from an article that he had co-written in 2007 with Pierre-Michel Forget, a professor at the French Natural History Museum and a specialist in tropical forest ecosystems. The original article described how the hunting of frugivorous animals affected the dispersion of the seeds of an Amazonian tree. The plagiarist was writing about a different region and a different tree, but described the exact same mechanism word for word, backed with the same tables and diagrams, while omitting to mention a source. After this related websites http://retractionwatch.com http://publicationethics.org http://www.wcri2015.org 18. P. A. Jansen and P.-M. Forget, “Predatory publishers and plagiarism prevention,” Science, 2012. 336(6087): 1380. 19. J. D. Watson and F. H. C. Crick, “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids,” Nature, 1953. 171:737–738. 20. Centre d’études et de recherches de sciences administratives et politiques (CNRS / Université Paris-II). 21. Gilles J. Guglielmi and Geneviève Koubi (dir.), Le Plagiat de la recherche scientifique, LGDJ Collection (Paris: Lextenso Éditions, 2012). © P. D STEWART/SPL/COSMOS ; SPL/COMOS ; NIH - ILLUSTRATIONS : J. GERNER FOR CNRS LE JOURNAL famously fell foul of the Inquisition for his contribution to the downfall of the Ptolemaic model. He is also often presented as one of the founders of the modern scientific method, which holds that “the ultimate arbiter of truth is experiment.” However, none of those who tried to reproduce the results of his experiments on falling bodies ever succeeded, at least not with Galileo’s claimed level of precision. It seems as though, convinced of the soundness and elegance of his mechanical theory, Galileo presented what was actually a brilliant and far-reaching thought experiment as a set of concrete empirical observations. In other words, he fabricated his data. Claudius Ptolemy is remembered as the greatest astronomer of ancient Greece. In his magnum opus, the Almagest, he describes a geocentric model of the movement of the stars that would later be called into question by Copernicus, Kepler, and finally Galileo. Ptolemy based his model on astronomic measurements that he claimed to have performed on the Egyptian coast in the 2nd century AD. However, these measurements had actually been made 300 years earlier on the island of Rhodes, by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. It was plagiarism pure and simple, but it nonetheless enabled astronomers to predict the precise position of the Sun and planets for nearly 1400 years. The Czech monk Johann Gregor Mendel is regarded today as the “father of modern genetics.” By crossing different strains of peas in his garden and observing the frequency of seven hereditary characteristics, he established the laws of gene transmission as they are still accepted today. Yet the results he published, largely ignored at the time, are statistically too perfect to be true, at least given the size of his sample groups. It is therefore highly probable that he “enhanced,” and thus falsified, his data. The third type of “major” fraud, plagiarism, is not only damaging to those whose work is copied. It encourages inaction and discredits all researchers.


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