Are Universities cracking down on academic and scientific misconduct?

It may just be a passing gust of a cleansing wind but I do have a perception that universities are becoming much more responsive to allegations of academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct.

Investigations of misconduct at academic institutions have long been notorious for the amount of time they take (usually many years) and for always protecting “the establishment”. But I think I detect a change.

Investigations are speeding up and sanctions against those found guilty are beginning to be more than symbolic slaps on the wrist. The frequency of enforced resignations and dismissals seem to be increasing. I perceive a trend and I hypothesise that it is partly in response to the on-line scrutiny and negative publicity which comes from the blogosphere. 

Close on the heels of the recent Ahluwalia resignation /dismissal come these two cases:

1. Academic impropriety with Professor Julius Nyang’oro considered to have improperly helped athletes to cheat at the University of North Carolina. He is tied to two athletes who were kicked off the football team. In one case he did not detect or ignored blatant plagiarism and in the other he allowed a freshman to take a senior graduate level course and awarded him a suspiciously high grade. Nyang’oro apparently rarely gave low grades in his classes:

College athletes and accommodating professors

UNC professor resigns amid football investigation

UNC’s Afro-American studies head resigns amid questions of football …

2. A well known cardiac researcher Zhiguo Wang has been dismissed from the Montreal Heart Institute for scientific misconduct following retraction of two papers in the Journal of the Biological Chemistry just a month ago.  Wang also has an appointment at the University of Montreal, and is senior research scholar of the Fonds de Recherche en Sante de Quebec, a ChangJiang scholar professor, and a LongJiang scholar professor of China. The dismissal comes less than a month after the publication of the retraction notices.

Authors retract two JBC papers on how heart rhythms go awry; Montreal Heart Institute looking into why

Montreal heart studies ‘withdrawn’ – Zhiguo Wang’s arrhythmia research being investigated after retractions 

Montreal hospital dismisses cardiac researcher over misconduct allegations

There have been a number of other cases recently in Germany as well where the speed of the investigations by the academic institutions have been unprecedented (zu Guttenberg and Bulfone-Paus as examples).

Perhaps it’s all just in my mind – or even wishful thinking – but I have the distinct impression that a cleansing wind is beginning to blow. The world wide web may already be having an impact on combating academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct by forcing institutions to be more responsive. There is much on-line which is still malicious or untrue or just plain rubbish. But the amount of “solid” comment has achieved a  “critical mass”. The blogosphere can no longer be merely ignored it seems.

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