July 15, 2013

The economic drag of innovation fraud

Today at #oui2013 at the University of Brighton, the final session featured three journal editors from SPRU on the other side of the A23 motorway: Ben Martin (co-editor of Research Policy), Joe Tidd (managing editor of International Journal of Innovation Management) and Paul Nightingale (co-editor of Industrial and Corporate Change).

The three editors explained their respective journals and topical interests, and gave doctoral students and others unfamiliar with the journal advice on how to avoid a desk reject. (Tip #1: only send papers that fit the journal’s stated scope).

There were no questions during Q&A, so I asked the question that has been on the mind of many experienced innovation scholars: “How is the journal process changing in the light of high profile retractions?” The answer revealed that trying to avoid a repeat of the recent embarrassing and systematic fraud has already created a drag on the innovation publishing system.

Martin (two retractions a year ago) said that academic misconduct had no impact on his workload 6-8 years ago, but now requires one day a week. The journal is both trying to design new processes to prevent fraudulent articles from getting through, and to follow up on the suspicions of authors and editors.

Meanwhile, Nightengale said that academic fraud (presumably the May 2013 retraction) cost him two months to investigate (“I don’t have two months”). Facing the threat of litigation over the retractions, Oxford University Press provided legal defense.

Essay on Research Integrity

During the coffee break, Martin informed me of the recent publication of his editorial on academic integrity (Martin, 2013) — an essay that I read in draft form last year. By my count, the essay lists 4 examples of authors attempting plagiarism, 12 cases of self-plagiarism.

The final paragraph in the latter section provided the most complex example of self-plagiarism in the essay:
More recently, an even more complicated case was brought to the attention of RP Editors by two individuals who independently had been asked to review papers by the same author (a professor at a European university) submitted to two other journals. They discovered that the author concerned had published an astonishing total of over 60 journal articles since 2004. Since this number was too great to handle, the two reviewers concentrated their attention on 15 articles published in leading journals over the period 2007–2010 (including three published in Research Policy), all of which formed part of a single stream of research emerging from a survey of over 100 firms in Europe that the author had conducted. They found that in these papers, similar analyses had been carried out with differing combinations from a large set of variables (sometimes relabelled, to add to the confusion) with no references to indicate the prior papers the author had already produced on the same broad theme. Moreover, in some cases, a given variable was treated as a dependent variable and in others as an independent variable. Perhaps more worryingly, variables that were demonstrated to be significant in some papers were then (presumably deliberately) omitted in the analysis reported in other papers. The author was asked for an explanation. This explanation was deemed unsatisfactory by the RP Editors, with the result that two of the RP papers had to be formally retracted.
Other Thoughts

Many attendees at OUI have followed the 13 OI retractions (and 3 withdrawn papers) of the past year by reading this blog and Retraction Watch. All are all awaiting the results of the long-delayed investigations at WHU and Mannheim.

One OI scholar said the policy of many journals — rejecting plagiarized papers — paralleled the lax 1980s policy of the Budapest subway system: if you were caught failed to pay for a subway ride, the consequence was the price of a subway ride. Without severe penalties, there was no deterrence for misconduct. (In contrast, Martin 2013 mentions examples of attempted plagiarists told by RP not to submit any paper for 1 or 2 years).

Another OI scholar saw the recent raft of retractions as being to innovation studies what American Lance Armstrong was to professional cycling. The cheating has become such a huge scandal precisely because it featured one of Europe’s most successful young innovation scholars. Using banned substances to gain unfair advantage seems like an apt metaphor for cheating in academic research papers.


Ben R. Martin, “Whither research integrity? Plagiarism, self-plagiarism and coercive citation in an age of research assessment,” Research Policy, Volume 42, Issue 5, June 2013, Pages 1005 - 1014. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2013.03.011

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