The fallout from scientific plagiarism can even extend into politics. Recently, it has threatened to bring down the ruling party in Romania following the revelation by the journal Nature of plagiarism in the doctoral thesis of a cabinet member and in several publications authored by the prime minister, a computer scientist.7 Earlier this year, the German minister for science and education resigned after the discovery of 60 passages in her doctoral thesis that were paraphrased without adequate citation.
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Explore This IssueJuly 2013
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In The Mind of the Cheater
What turns a rational scientist into a liar? Is there a biological basis for this transformation? Perhaps. Magnetic resonance imaging of the cerebral cortex of pathological liars demonstrates a relatively widespread increase in the white matter volume of the orbitofrontal, middle, and inferior—but not superior—frontal gyri compared with the imaging results found in antisocial and normal controls.8 There may also be some form of psychologic adaptation akin to the changes that viewers observed in Walter White’s personality. To be capable of lying to others, one must first become capable of lying to oneself. As Mark Twain wryly observed, “When a person cannot deceive himself, the chances are against his being able to deceive other people.”
Robert Trivers, PhD, professor of anthropology and biological sciences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., has proposed that self-deception evolved to facilitate interpersonal deception by allowing people to avoid the cues to conscious deception that might reveal deceptive intent.9 Self-deception provides two additional advantages to the “user”: It eliminates the costly cognitive load that is typically associated with deceiving, and it can minimize retribution if the deception is discovered. Beyond its role in specific acts of deception, self-deceptive self-enhancement also allows the individual to display more confidence than is warranted, which has a host of social advantages. The question then arises of how the self can be both deceiver and deceived. This may be achieved through dissociations of mental processes, including conscious versus unconscious memories, conscious versus unconscious attitudes, and automatic versus controlled processes.9
Can We Prevent Research Fraud?
As challenging as this question may sound, there may be some useful strategies to reduce the incidence of fraudulent research and discourage those individuals who may be tempted to follow the path to false success. For example, collaborators at Saint Louis University and Washington University Schools of Medicine, both in St. Louis, Mo., have developed a novel remediation program known by its acronym, RePAIR (Restoring Professionalism and Integrity in Research). It provides a second chance for researchers who have been noncompliant with research regulations but whose sponsoring institutions feel are capable of changing their behaviors.10 This is a refreshing change from the position of many research institutions, which often prefer to deal with the issue of fraud on an ad hoc basis.