Learned societies

Learned societies

In the absence of recognized instances for mediation, experience shows that the academic community most often finds itself helpless to deal with cases of fraud and academic plagiarism. Who can deal with them? Under what framework, with what legitimacy and what force of intervention? The difficulty is even more important since plagiarism is as much a breach of civil law (relations between individuals) as criminal law (infringement of academic norms and instances).

Pierre-Jean Benghozi, Professor of the École polytechnique Paris and Scientific Advisor to the Institute, wrote about the procedure that he proposed and that has been in place for the last six years in a scientific association covering all the disciplines of management in France [1].

In this situation, the aim of the mission entrusted to P.- J. Benghozi was not to seek to define or describe plagiarism, but rather to set out several suggestions as to dealing collectively with complaints and conflicts, taking as a starting point the multiplication of plagiarism related “affairs” (complaints, attacks etc.) and the absence of any institutional framework for dealing with them. Here is the main outline of this procedure.

1. Promote commitment

No collective procedure alone can resolve the matter of plagiarism. It also needs the clear commitment of the stakeholders and actors of research through their adherence to shared good practices. Before setting up any method to deal with plagiarism, it is therefore necessary to envisage explicitly raising the awareness of the whole community (disciplinary associations, evaluation committees, establishments and journals in particular). In practical terms this should first be seen in the elaboration of a common charter defining the principles and code of behavior expected from academics in research.

2.  Investigation and arbitration

Whatever the details of the form chosen, such an instance of mediation should not aim to have the force of law if it is to be acceptable to all, easily set up and therefore effective. Its prime aim should be legitimacy. This is essential if its decisions are to be appropriated by scientific or disciplinary committees.

3. Regulation and peace-keeping in academic relations

In case of conflict among parties, the procedure contributes to encourage individual responsibility in taking on the investigation of plagiarism dossiers and elaborating an argued viewpoint. It strengthens the health of collective practices and encourages exemplarity towards students and research partners.

By constituting a right to appeal or potential threat of sanctions in case of guilt, it contributes to raising awareness of the entire value chain of publication: from direct colleagues and heads of laboratories or universities to conference organizers, reviewers, editors of journals and publishers.

4. Gradual definition of jurisprudence and best practices

The lack of awareness (by potential plagiarists) of clear limits makes procedures that rely only on sanctions, invalid. In these contexts of a continuum from plagiarism and “usual practice” (normal use of citations and references), it is essential to make what is “right and acceptable” explicit.

5. Localization of the institutional framework

This procedure describes the blame or absence of blame and suggests forms of compensation to the parties concerned. Such an instance of mediation must not aim to have force of law, but rather the force of legitimacy. This is essential if its decisions are then to be appropriated by eventual scientific or disciplinary committees.

6. Members of the commission or mediators

The process involves active researchers, for the main lever of such a mediating mechanism remains regulating and training among peers. Participants in this instance contribute to make it an instance of equality and discussion, like editorial committees of journals rather than a “committee of elders.”

7. Funding the system

If this procedure is to be followed conscientiously, it must be recognized that investigating dossiers and discussions with the parties involved is time consuming. Other costs may also be involved: (missions to meet with certain parties or witnesses, access to anti-plagiarism software and bibliographical databases). Suitable funding should thus be provided.

8. Information, guidance and good practice

Even if it is a key element of these recommendations, the mediation process must not be thought of in isolation. It must be part of the framework of other actions upstream, especially in terms of information and awareness raising. To encourage collective learning of the community and acquiring the rules and best practices, it seems essential to regularly publish decisions and descriptions of cases dealt with.

9. Transparency of analyses and procedures

In order for arbitration decisions to be beyond dispute and easily accepted by all parties, they must be well-reasoned. They cannot simply be based on an argument of authority. It is therefore important that the process for investigating dossiers be transparent. This requires that the stages of the process, as well as the criteria and means of handling cases, be clearly defined and that the statements of fact (the actual evidence and the documents) be separated from the arbitration decision and from the grounds, which clearly explain the rationale for the decision.”

[1] Benghozi P.-J., 2011, Réduire et traiter les cas de plagiat, une proposition de la FNEGE et SFM, Document interne.