Organisation - January 31, 2012

Two more cases of academic fraud

The NRC newspaper has reported two new cases of fraud in Wageningen. A postdoc and a PhD candidate have allegedly manipulated research data. Both were found out by their supervisors on time.

NRC reported last weekend that ten cases of academic fraud in Wageningen were being looked into, three of which have led to sanctions. But seven of these are disputes concerning copyright and intellectual property, which hardly involve fraud.
The first case of fraud was reported in Resource in November last year. A foreign PhD candidate had manipulated biochemical research data in her academic publication, co-authored, among others, by the Wageningen food scientist Sander Kersten. After she was exposed by a research group in Germany, her article was retracted. The fraud has been proven in this case: something published was unacceptable, was withdrawn and placed in a 'retracted papers' list. This list shows that Wageningen has been involved in research fraud once in the past five years.
Added to this, NRC now mentions two new cases of fraud. One of these took place at Resource Ecology where a postdoc manipulated data for genetic research into big mammals. The postdoc got into a tight spot when the supervisors, which include Professor Herbert Prins, thoroughly analyzed the research again. This instance of fraud did not reach the stage of publication as the culprit was apprehended on time. Prins reprimanded the postdoc but did not report the case to the Academic Advice Council. However, the confidential adviser was aware of this incident, says spokesperson Simon Vink.
Then, there is a third case of fraud or attempted fraud, in which a PhD candidate from an un-named chair group had manipulated data. In this case, the confidential adviser reported to the executive board. Here, too, the culprit was exposed and reprimanded by the supervisors before anything could be published.
The seven other cases mentioned by the NRC involve disputes on authorship. For example, professor or department head wants his name on an academic article although he has hardly or not made any contributions in planning or writing its contents. So the PhD candidate raises a complaint. A dispute like this was solved with the intercession of a confidential adviser. There are also disputes over intellectual property. For example, researcher has developed a new technique and wants to make money out of this by setting up a company. The patent for this finding belongs formally to Wageningen UR and names the director or professor as person-in-charge. Will the researcher be given the intellectual property rights or does the institution want to have shares in the company in return for the patent? When there are arguments, a confidential adviser would then be asked to intervene. But there is no fraud involved.
So then, does the count stay at three? We are not sure. Could there be another frauder who has not been exposed and therefore not named in this overview? But we do know that at least two cases of fraud or attempted fraud have been nipped in the bud. That's good news because Diederik Stapel too had humble beginnings.

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