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Taxpayer-Funded Scientists Caught Plagiarizing Were Allowed To Keep Researching

The primary government agency for funding scientific research gave researchers caught plagiarizing light punishments and allowed them to continue receiving government grants.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found no fewer than 23 incidents of plagiarism by government-funded researchers, and eight cases of scientists fabricating or manipulating data between 2015 and 2016 at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Washington Free Beacon reports.

The OIG investigates cases of misconduct and recommends disciplinary action, but the NSF has discretion over whether to impose a light punishment, like issuing a letter of reprimand, or a stricter sentence, i.e. a three-year ban on receiving government grants. Most researchers caught knowingly submitting plagiarized or falsified research were allowed continue working with the NSF.

Most of NSF’s budget goes to fund research at other universities through grants or cooperative agreements, where the NSF has more involvement in the process. NSF awarded $5.3 billion in grants and $1.7 billion in cooperative agreements in 2015, mostly to universities and academic institutions which adhere to rigorous standards.

In one case, a researcher was caught plagiarizing five times in a funding proposal he submitted to NSF. The OIG found that the plagiarism was done “knowingly,” and recommended that NSF require certifications for materials for three years, and also bar the researcher from participating in other research as a peer reviewer, advisor or consultant. The NSF, however, “did not bar the Subject from participation as a peer reviewer, advisor or consultant.”

OIG found that another researcher’s falsification of documents and manipulation of data over several years “fit a pattern of research misconduct,” and recommended the researcher be debarred from NSF programs. The researcher’s university “took several disciplinary actions including oversight, remedial training and the prohibition of applying for funds,” and the OIG recommended that the researcher be debarred from NSF research. NSF still allowed the researcher to continue consulting as an advisor and peer reviewer.

Researchers submit some dubious justifications for their plagiarism. The principal researcher on one project was caught using someone else’s material without attribution, and argued that “the use of quotation marks around directly copied text in his proposals was not required by the standards of his research community,” the OIG reported in 2016.

He was required to submit certifications that all his work was original for three years, but was still allowed to keep his funding.

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