After looking at My professor is rigging data and plagiarizing. What can I do?, I read through some of the case reports of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and I noticed that punishments seem to be very light. When COPE receives a case, sometimes an attempt is made to contact the institution, and then the institution does nothing: perhaps the wrongdoer is too politically powerful, or the institution doesn't have any will to act. Sometimes the investigation simply fizzles out after nobody bothers to look at the lab journals, even though the lab journals presumably exist. Sometimes the journal is told how to avoid such problems in the future, but no punishments are forthcoming for the existing case.

This is very different from what I believed before - that if someone did decide to falsify/steal data, their employment would be terminated, and nobody would ever want to associate with them again.

So my question is: where is the discrepancy between how I perceive the consequences of academic misconduct, and what COPE reports as actual cases? Is it perhaps because most of the misconduct cases are from no-name departments and journals that do not care about their reputation? Or are my impressions of the consequences of misconduct incorrect?

In fact, I have experienced this on my own: one non-mathematics professor at my school took my mathematics manuscript, added his graduate students as coauthors despite their having no relation to the work, and tried to submit it to a journal. I don't care about this specific publication, as it is so worthless that I prefer it to be rejected as to not be associated with me. The professor thinks it is significant only because he knows nothing of mathematics. But it does make me question the kind of integrity I assumed of academics. He is a chair professor at a top10 university, and his (non-mathematics, science) department is very well-respected, so brand name is not the cause here.


The situation you describe in your last paragraph does not sound like business as usual at all: on the contrary, it sounds so bizarre that I am having trouble picturing it taking place. (This is at a top 10 university in the US??) I suppose there must be more to the story, but: granting what you say, indeed this professor does not have the right to publish the paper without your permission. Especially if you think the work is not valuable enough to be published, you should absolutely contact the journal ASAP to withdraw the paper.

Unfortunately I suspect that you're correct that punishments for faculty who plagiarize or commit other forms of academic misconduct are distressingly light, in particular for many of the reasons that you suggest. If someone is caught intentionally falsifying data or -- the horror, the horror -- submitting a knowingly false proof, then the community as a whole is going to feel victimized and take some steps to ostracize or ban this faculty member. However, if it's a case of stealing material from a student: it pains me to say this, but often the easy course is to slap the faculty member on the wrist and look out to be sure that this behavior is not repeated in the near future.

I don't know what other people are doing, and I have heard more stories of faculty skullduggery on this site than in the rest of my life combined. But for whatever it's worth, 99.9% of all faculty members I've ever met would sooner break into my office and steal my computer than steal a paper from a student. If the trends are different in other fields and/or other parts of the world (and I think they must be, to an extent), I am really sorry to hear that. Academia without academic integrity is one of the most hollow pursuits I can imagine.

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    Pete: until my stints as Dir Grad Studies in Math, I, too, was blithely unaware of faculty malfeasance, especially toward students. However, during those stressful epochs, a distressing number of cases were brought to my attention. In all cases, the faculty involved faced no consequences, and it was rationalized-away by the people with both information and power. Now being again-blissfully out of those loops, I again see nothing of the sort. Thus, I conclude that it is happening all the time, but most of us are not witnesses. – paul garrett Dec 24 '14 at 15:36
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    That last para should be put somewhere prominent on the site, perhaps in a "Quotable Quotes" section. Having said that, I think that your assumption about 99.9% of faculty is way too optimistic. I think Math, for a variety of reasons, does not reward abusive behavior by faculty like some other fields do, but I'm sure it still happens. I think most of the faculty on this site are nice people who are here trying to help. But lots of people are not nice, and it is not always clear who isn't nice. Especially if you don't happen to be in a position where they can hurt you. One should remember that. – Faheem Mitha Dec 24 '14 at 16:29
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    @Feij: I am a bit confused as to how someone who "knows nothing of mathematics" got involved with a math paper. Whether he would be considered a coauthor is something that the two of you should work out together. Adding the names of people (especially students, who are not PIs on a grant) who had no involvement in the paper is not fine in any academic field. Also, there are a lot of math journals out there which will publish virtually any paper which is sent to them, especially if payment is received. Why are you letting this bad behavior stand? – Pete L. Clark Dec 24 '14 at 17:27
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    Also you are allowing the community to waste its time on a paper that if accepted, you would withdraw your name from, which might (and should, according to what you said) result in the paper not being published. Being a member of a professional community includes upholding community standards. There is a bit of irony here in that I see a de facto answer to your question. – Pete L. Clark Dec 24 '14 at 19:48
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    Yes, I now see your reasoning. I should have my name removed from the manuscript, and will think about how to request that from the professor tactfully. – Feij Dec 24 '14 at 20:12

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