A report out this week calls for an overhaul of the way academic research is done in this country, and for an ombudsman to be appointed to oversee everything.
The report, the Montreal Gazette points out, was well underway before the question of academic integrity broke wide open in Canada last summer with a Toronto Star story about the use of ghostwriters by McGill University professor Barbara Sherwin in an academic article about hormone replacement therapy.
A university inquiry into Sherwin is still several months from completion, the schools says, and likely won't be finished until the new year. The school's provost office blames the long investigation on the huge repercussions for whatever it decides and the complexity and rarity of the case itself.
The new report, however, makes the point that academic misconducts are not all that rare -- though Canada is better than many. The drug sector is particularly bad.
Breeches of research integrity are a problem in some parts of the private sector, notably in the pharmaceutical industry. The existence of companies, including some in Canada, that “ghost write” papers for academic researchers is but one visible manifestation of research misconduct in the private sector. These companies craft research papers in support of a particular drug and seek out researchers willing to be listed as authors in exchange for money and other benefits.
The study, The State of Research Integrity and Misconduct Policies in Canada, prepared for the Canadian Research Integrity Committee by consulting firm Hickling Arthurs Low, says ghostwriting is only part of the problem.
The existence of companies, including some in Canada, that 'ghost- write' papers for academic researchers is but one visible manifestation of research misconduct in the private sector. These companies craft research papers in support of a particular drug and seek out researchers willing to be listed as authors in exchange for money and other benefits.
The report also looks at fabrication of data, falsification of data, plagiarism, conflicts of interest and abuse of power or retaliation towards colleagues and assistants. The 29 academic institutions surveyed, which represent about 60 per cent of the research done in Canada, reported investigating about 39 such incidents a year.
The report says that number is probably low.
This estimate should be treated with the appropriate caution given the challenges associated with collecting this information. In addition to research institutions having little incentive to share this information, there is a strong likelihood that misconduct cases go unreported by researchers due to an unwillingness to risk one’s own reputation or sour relationships with colleagues, or simply an unwillingness to engage a process that can lead to frustration and additional work stress. Under-reporting also comes about when allegations are reported but are then ‘swept under the carpet’ at some level of the institution. Anecdotes from interviews conducted for this study attest to all of these instances.