23

My course-mates and I have a scientific paper to do for a class and, despite having had almost 3 months to do it, no one has done anything (or at least tried to do anything) on the research, and now they're starting to fake the results of the research (which hasn't even been done), and I know that this falls under scientific misconduct.

Since I'm planning on moving to another college (not related to scientific research, because this is not what I want), what should I do in this case? Should I stay in the project or should I ask to have my name removed from the authors' list?

  • 14
    You should probably have your name removed, so they cannot drag you down with them, when the truth comes out. Better safe than sorry. – Alexandros Nov 26 '15 at 15:48
  • 5
    @Alexandros agreed, except that you should probably not use words like "probably" in such a clear cut situation. – Dan Romik Nov 26 '15 at 18:25
  • 8
    [..] almost 3 months [..] no one has done anything[..] So you did not do anything, either? Did you try to understand the group dynamics that lead to this situation? – hagello Nov 27 '15 at 8:47
  • 1
    @hagello You can't do much when two of your course-mates keep playing computer games in class and the other one is at comedy websites and facebook. I could do everything alone and then get out of the group, but I had three other assignments with the same people (and two other guys that actually DID something), so I was hoping this assignment would turn out ok. Turns out that sometimes I rely on people too much. – guilherme.oc97 Nov 27 '15 at 13:58
  • 1
    @guilherme.oc97 This experience, while probably very uncomfortable, is teaching you something very valuable about life. In my view, lessons like this are one of the most important things you learn in school -- in environments where a screw-up isn't the end of your career just for being around the wrong sort. – zxq9 Nov 27 '15 at 14:46
29

First of all the term partner is a bit confusing here, are you talking about course-mates or colleagues?

Otherwise ask yourself whether or not you want to be associated with forgery, regardless of whether or not you intend to enjoy the fruits of the action. As an analogy, would it be OK to help with forging counterfeit money just because you don't intend to use the fake money to buy anything with it?

Then there are different levels of taking distance from the act; you can either:

  • blow the whistle on the data-forgery, which is what I would strongly advocate for if this work is supposed to be published on a peer-review journal, or
  • just ask to have your name removed from the report if it's just coursework. That way you avoid having a fallout with your "partners" and still maintain some level of plausible deniability.

The first option is important in the case of a scientific publication, because data forgery on a publication is not only cheating and ethically wrong, but also is potentially harmful to others who might try on to build on your research results. That aspect is obviously not as important if the paper in question is just a hand-in assignment for some course at the uni.

The second option isn't really the most ethical alternative, and might still be problematic (e.g. if someone questions why you insist on being removed from authors list).

Bottomline is you can't have your cake and eat it at the same time.

  • Thank you for the answer. I was considering on blowing the whistle, but this is coursework, and maybe it isn't worth it. My main worry is: would this affect my career or academic life in another college? – guilherme.oc97 Nov 26 '15 at 16:20
  • 3
    @guilherme.oc97 I think you have nothing to loose from blowing the whistle. You may gain the animosity of your cheating colleagues (that they brought it upon themselves), but you are leaving anyway. An accusation of data forgery may chase you across institutions. – Davidmh Nov 26 '15 at 21:21
  • 15
    "If you are an undergrad then the question is a bit off-topic here." What difference does it make if the project is for a graduate class vs. an undergraduate class? – john smith Nov 26 '15 at 22:42
  • 1
    It's true we try not to field undergrad questions but some undergraduate problems make sense in the context of academia. I think this is pretty on topic, since university research is nearly by definition in the domain of academia, and the fact that it's occurring in an undergrad class isn't critical to the nature of the situation. – user18072 Nov 27 '15 at 0:42
  • 1
    If we can't both have our cake and eat it at the same time, I choose to eat it. – user21820 Nov 27 '15 at 11:23
5

This is the type of situation that department deanships are created for. Meet with the dean, explain what's going on. The dean will go over your options with you, and probably ask you to sit tight (=wait) while he or she looks into the situation and confers with colleagues.

(The above answer is written for almost all countries. The exception would be if you happen to live in a country where corruption is rampant. In that case, the best thing would be to keep your head down and be as little noticed as possible.)

5

Many schools have an Academic Integrity office or officer. Usually you can talk over the problem, learn about your options, and decide to file a formal report or not.

If this situation relates to a for-credit class, I assume you will get a poor grade in the class as a result of not having done the assignment or as a result of asking to have your name removed from the assignment that your partners are submitting. If you are switching fields, maybe that doesn't matter to you.

Reporting academic dishonesty (as opposed to just getting yourself out of the situation) is the right choice, but I know from several personal experiences that it causes short-term stress that you may not want to endure. You probably will find that it's not just the perpetrators who get angry at you. Some people within the school organization may well be annoyed that you are reporting the incident. There will be stress, so if getting yourself out of it is as much as you can contemplate doing, at least do that. Not everybody is ready to be a hero all the time.

Over the years, both as a student and as an employee, I have witnessed academic misconduct. I have never regretted reporting, but I have sometimes decided that reporting wouldn't be worth the trouble it would cause for me. I have taken on a considerable amount of trouble related to reporting, so I don't feel that I have been "weak" on the occasions when I have decided not to. If you've never done it before, you might find it to be an eye-opening experience.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.