Deal strongly with plagiarists

A committee appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) has made some welcome recommendations to discourage plagiarism in academic work and award punishment to those who resort to it.  It is known that plagiarism is not uncommon in the work of researchers and academics in many Indian universities. Charges of lifting of material from others’ publications, fabrication of data and fraud have been levelled against even senior academics. A few years ago a highly regarded professor of geology in Panjab University was found to have planted fossils, stolen from a museum in European museum or bought in the Himalayas and claimed credit for discovering them. There have been many other cases from other universities and research institutes. They have not been limited to scientific research. In the field of humanities like history and literature also research scholars have been accused of using in their papers or theses material and ideas from others’ work without acknowledgement.

Such malpractices are not limited to India. Two recent separate cases of fraud by a senior South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk and a young Japanese researcher Haruko Obokata in the same field had attracted worldwide attention. Huang’s guilt was proved on investigation and action was taken against him. Obokata’s case is more recent and she is facing investigation and action. In cases of plagiarism and fraud even jail sentences have been awarded in the US when deliberate and intentional misconduct is proved. In India, investigation of charges and actions based on them have not always been the norm.

Considerations like the standing of the persons accused of plagiarism or their connections and the reputation of the institutions where they work have influenced investigations and actions. But there have also been exemplary cases of action in rare cases. Professors and researchers have been suspended or dismissed when complaints of plagiarism were found correct. Recently the Institute of Microbial Technology based in Chandigarh, attached to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, did well to retract papers published by a research associate in an international journal when it was found that the data was fabricated.  
Many institutions do not even investigate complaints of plagiarism and fraud for fear of inviting adverse attention and loss of reputation. But when unethical and unprofessional conduct is proved, it only invites more ignominy and disgrace. The UGC panel has prescribed a range of punishments from salary cuts to dismissals for various types of malpractices. Investigations should be mandatory and punishments should have strong deterrent value. Non-action will only bring disrepute to the country and to its scientific and intellectual establishments.

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