Integrity in academia

MEMBERSHIP of the academia carries with it special responsibilities towards students, colleagues, the university, the community of which the university is a part and the scholar’s own conscience.

One such responsibility is to observe academic integrity i.e. the moral code or ethical policies of the university.

This is a vast and evolving area. It straddles many shores within which the waters of ethics, economics, law and technology intermingle.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that new issues are coming to the fore.

Cyber information: An important issue is the challenge and opportunity of cyber sources of information. Technology has taken the search out of research.

We used to rely on direct sources to obtain material; now a large amount of information, some of it of dubious quality, some of it with no stated authorship, is available at our finger tips.

Previously, information was created by individuals. Now information is more of a communal property, indicating the rise of a sort of “collective intelligence”.

We need to put our heads together to see how to confront the challenge posed by cyber information to the traditional notions of plagiarism and copyright.

Academic publishing: In the growing atmosphere of “publish or perish”, all academicians are required to produce original research. With this new demand, questions of research integrity come to the fore.

Doctored findings: A large part of research financing inevitably comes from external organisations (i.e. the government and industry). This creates the temptation to sacrifice impartial truth in order to please the paying client.

One way to mitigate the problem is to have elaborate rules for declaring sources of revenue and disclosing of clients’ interests.

How far such disclosures work is open to question because interested sponsors can hide behind a web of corporate relationships.

Withheld results: A more insidious problem is when the outcome of one study is withheld so that the sponsors of other lucrative studies are not uncomfortable.

Supervisor-supervisee relationship: Around the world, research supervisors feel that being a supervisor entitles them to put their name as a lead author or co-author of their students’ articles and seminar papers.

There are clear problems of academic integrity here.

Mere supervision, direction, correction, or guidance with sources and materials does not entitle a supervisor to claim authorship of his student’s work despite the undoubted time, talent and effort expended to discuss, guide and correct the student’s output.

by Shad Saleem Faruoi,

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