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Research Misconduct: Fraud and Plagiarism

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  • 0:07 Fraud and Plagiarism
  • 1:45 The Reasoning
  • 2:50 Concerns
  • 4:08 Good Research
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Obviously, at this level, you don't need to be told that copying or making things up is wrong; however, it still happens more often than it should. We will look at the specifics of plagiarism and fraud in psychological research.

Fraud and Plagiarism

If you discuss ethics, you have to discuss fraud and plagiarism. It sucks that we have to do this, but it is such a problem that the American Psychological Association has the entire 8.11 section dedicated to plagiarism. Plagiarism is the presentation of another's work or data as your own, even if the other work or data source is cited occasionally.

Portraying someone else's work as your own is a big no-no. Even if you throw in the occasional muffled 'this came from so and so,' it is still not okay! If you do not do the work, then don't take the credit. Most often, I have heard that plagiarism takes the form of shared projects being published under one researcher's name. If you did some of the work, you only take some of the credit.

Plagiarism in psychological research can often take the form of copying another's ideas or theories and replacing key words so that it appears new. It is even possible to plagiarize oneself by not citing the source of the ideas.

Fraud is the intentional falsification or fabrication of methods, data, results, or reported findings. As you can see, there are many steps and places that a person can tweak something so the results look like they found something significant. Fraudulent psychological research usually deals with results and reporting. Numbers might be altered to create a stronger statistical picture than actually exists. Sometimes everything is just made up, from the participants to the results.

The Reasoning

If you go online and search plagiarism or fraud, you will find dozens of articles from within the last few years discussing researchers who have committed these acts. You might be wondering why someone would risk the embarrassment and their career to get published. The reasons are fairly simple.

The first is that researchers are pushed to publish as often as possible. However, to have something that is publishable, the researcher must have statistically significant results. If a researcher is not researching and publishing, then it doesn't really seem like they're doing anything. So, there is this overwhelming pressure from supervisors and bosses to publish results, so it becomes easier to justify tweaking the results.

The second reason is frustration. Many researchers become 'married' to their theory and will go to great lengths to prove it right. They have invested countless hours and resources to develop a theory, and in their eyes, the theory must be right. So, the research might get tweaked or it might get falsified so that it gets published.

Concerns

What you learn in psychology is based off what has been researched. When you conduct research, you look at prior research to understand the background of a particular issue or problem. If some of it is false, it is sort of like building a house on top of a sandy hill. Subsequent research and teaching is based on bad research. If the base of the sandy hill crumbles away, the whole thing comes crashing down.

In addition to these macro-level problems of bad research on teaching and subsequent research, there is also the issue of integrity. Universities and companies who retain the services of researchers who commit plagiarism and fraud now look like fools because they are producing garbage. If one researcher is producing bad research at a university, then it reflects poorly on everyone. This is sort of like the zombie movie infections, where one red blip suddenly starts spreading everywhere.

Lastly, it raises concerns for the authenticity of a lot of other research - any subsequent research based off of the findings, any assumptions drawn from the research, and anything else done by the researcher or their colleagues. The adage of 'one bad apple spoils the bunch' is a nice metaphor here. If one is bad, then everything else needs to be examined closer.

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