Cheating Brazilian Scientists Exposed

Five Brazilian scientists have been “named and shamed” for plagiarism, falsification of data and poor academic conduct by the funding agency that supported their research.

The result of an investigation by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) was published on its website 7th October. You can read more (in Portuguese) by clicking here.

This is the first time a Brazilian funding agency has pin-pointed what are believed to be widespread abuses in higher education and research, where a culture of impunity has long been prevalent for academics who go on to achieve lifetime tenure, social and financial privileges, and have become accustomed to expect little performance oversight.

This blast of fresh air has been praised as the start of a much-needed transparency campaign for higher education in Brazil, and has been applauded by scientific bodies including SBPC (Brazilian Society of the Progress of Science) and ABC (Brazilian Academy of Sciences).

After their doctoral or post-doctoral studies, the five scientists went on to academic careers at prestigious state or federally-funded universities and institutes. While some of the five have acknowledged errors of citation, none have formally acknowledged wrongdoing and have reportedly even complained of unfair treatment by FAPESP.

Those named in media reports  are: Andreimar Soares of Riberão Preto’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences; Claudio Airoldi of the University of Campinas Institute of Chemistry; Flavio Vilela of the USP (University of São Paulo) Veterinary School; Javier Amadeo of USP’s Philosophy and Human Sciences Department; Antonio José Belloni of the Renato Archer Center of Technology.

You can read local press reports about the disclosures in Brazil’s leading newspapers Estado de S Paulo and Folha de S Paulo.

The investigations into plagiarism, falsification of scientific data and ill-conduct cover a period from 2012 to 2013, but a further 22 cases are under consideration. Another 15 cases resulted in no further action.

The accusations include straight copying of other authors’ text into doctoral theses, fraudulent use of images, and false claims to co-authorship of scholarly articles.

In this case the São Paulo Research Foundation, which funds over 12,000 projects a year and has a grant budget of almost US$500 million, named the five for specific violations of its own 2011 Code of Scientific Good Conduct.

In a statement, FAPESP: “the dissemination of a culture of solid integrity in scientific research depends upon the educational policies of research organisations, that should be designed to help researchers understand and respect the value of integrity.”

Commentators said that FAPESP has moved cautiously in its investigations and only published after making sure it stood on firm legal ground.

The move may have rocked Brazil’s cosy academic community, but should have surprised few. In August 2014 FAPESP hosted a major symposium on scientific ethics. Delegates were told that plagiarism, fraud and fabrication of scientific findings are no longer problems that affect only the world’s traditional science powers, such as the United States, Japan, China and the United Kingdom.

This assessment was made by Nicholas Steneck, the director of the Research Ethics and Integrity Program at the University of Michigan in the United States, in a lecture given at the III BRISPE – Brazilian Meeting on Research Integrity, Science and Publication Ethics, held on August 14, 2014, at FAPESP headquarters.

According to Steneck, because they now work on a global scale, universities, research institutions and research-sponsoring agencies all over the world need to engage in coordinated efforts to address these issues to prevent jeopardizing research integrity as a whole. You can read a report on this event by clicking here.

The sanctions imposed on the scientists have included a “quarantine period” during which they were not eligible to apply for any financial support from FAPESP. Additionally, the reputational damage on those named may affect their further career and publication prospects.

So far, there are no indications that Brazil’s federal government agencies for funding science, are planning to follow in FAPESP’s footsteps by embarking on “name and shame” transparency campaigns.




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