NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION OFFICE OF INSPECTOR G E N E M L OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS CLOSEOUT MEMORANDUM Case Number: A05020005 11 Page 1of 1 We received a n allegation of plagiarism regarding a proposal submitted to NSF by a PI and two co-PIs.1 Our Inquiry eliminated the two co-PIS a s subjects, so we referred the allegation to the PI'S university.2 The University concluded the P I was responsible for the copied material in his proposal, and concluded the P I plagiarized. We agreed with the university t h a t the P I plagiarized and recommended NSF make a finding of research misconduct against the him. NSF agreed and took the additional actions of requiring the subject to (1) certify for 5 years that any proposals submitted by the subject contain no plagiarized, falsified, or fabricated material; (2) submit for 5 years the assurances of a university official who h a s reviewed the PI'S NSF proposals and reports and concluded they do not contain any plagiarized, falsified, or fabricated material; and (3) complete a n ethics course on plagiarism. Accordingly, this case is closed. This memorandum, the Deputy Director's adjudication, and our Report of Investigation constitute the closeout for this case. 1 (footnote redacted). 2 (footnote redacted). NSF OIG Form 2 (1 1/02) NATIONALSCIENCE FOUNDATION 4201 WILSON BOLILEVARD ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA 22230 OFFICE OF THE DEPUTY DIRECTOR CERTIFIED MAIL --RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED Re: Notice of Research Misconduct Determination Dear Dr. On or about November 12,2004, you submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation ("NSF") entitled ": " As documented in the attached Investigative Report by NSF's Office of Inspector General ("OIG"), this proposal contained plagiarized text. - - - Research Misconduct and Actions Taken Under NSF's regulations, "research misconduct" is defined as "fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing or performing research fbnded by NSF . .." 45 CFR § 689.1(a). NSF defines "plagiarism" as "the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit." 45 CFR §689.1(a)(3). A finding of research misconduct requires that: (1) There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and (2) The research misconduct be committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and (3) The allegation be proven by a preponderance of evidence. 45 CFR 689.2(c). In your proposal, you copied text fiom multiple sources without providing proper attribution for such material. By submitting proposals to NSF that copy the ideas or words of another without adequate attribution, as described in the OIG Investigative Report, you misrepresented someone Page 2 < else's work as your own. Your conduct unquestionably constitutes plagiarism. I therefore conclude that your actions meet the definition of "research misconduct" set forth in NSF's regulations.' ' Pursuant to NSF regulations, the Foundation must also determine whether to make ajinding of misconduct based on a preponderance of the evidence. 45 CFR 5 689.2(c). After reviewing the Investigative Report and the University's report, NSF has determined that, based on a preponderance of the evidence, your misconduct was knowing and constituted a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community. I am, therefore, issuing a finding of research misconduct against you. NSF's regulations establish three categories of actions (Group I, IT, and III)that can be taken in response to a finding of misconduct. 45 CFR §689.3(a). Group I actions include issuing a letter of reprimand; conditioning awards on prior approval of particular activities from NSF; requiring that an institution or individual obtain special prior approval of particular activities from NSF; and requiring that an institutional representative certify as to the accuracy of reports or certifications of compliance with particular requirements. 45 CFR $689.3(a)(I). Group I1 actions include award suspension or restrictions on designated activities or expenditures; requiring special reviews of requests for funding; and requiring correction to the research record. 45 CFR §689.3(a)(2). Group I IIactions include suspension or termination of awards; prohibitions on participation as NSF reviewers, advisors or consultants; and debarment or suspension from participation in NSF programs. 45 CFR 5 689.3(a)(3). In determining the severity of the sanction to impose for research misconduct, I have considered the seriousness of the misconduct; our determination that it was knowing; the determination that it was part of a pattern; your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions; and the fact that your conduct did not have an impact on the published research record. I have also considered other relevant circumstances. 45 CFR fj 689.3 (b). I find your plagiarism to be serious because the amount of text that you copied was substantial. Moreover, in light of the fact that you had previously submitted another proposal containing plagiarized text, we believe that your plagiarism is part of a pattern of misconduct, as opposed to an isolated incident. However, your conduct did not have a significant impact on the research record and you cooperated fully with the investigation. Moreover, you took the initiative to purchase plagiarism detection software to ensure that you do not submit another proposal containing plagiarized text. I, therefore, take the foIlowing actions: From the date ofthis letter through October 15,2012, you are required to certify.that proposals or reports you submit to NSF do not contain plagiarized, falsified, or fabricated material. Such certifications should be sent to the OIG, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230. Page 3 From the date of this letter through October 15,2012, you are required to submit assurances by a responsible official of your employer that any proposals or reports you submit to NSF do not contain plagiarized, falsified, or fabricated material. Such assurances should be sent to the OIG. You are required to complete an ethics training course on plagiarism by June 30,2008. You must certify in writing to the OIG that such training has been completed before you will be permitted to submit any further grant proposals for Federal funding. Procedures Governing Appeals Under NSF's regulations, you have 30 days after receipt of this letter to submit an appeal of this decision, in writing, to the Director of the Foundation. 45 CFR 5 689.10(a). Any appeal should be addressed to the Director at the National Science Foundation, 420 1 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230. If we do not receive your appeal within the 30-day period, this decision will become final. For your information we are attaching a copy of the applicable regulations. If you have any questions about the foregoing, please contact at (703) 292-8060. Sincerely, Kathie L. Olsen Deputy Director Enclosures - ~nvesti~ativeReport - 45 C.F.R. Part 689 National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General Confidential Investigation Report Case Number A05020005 19 June 2007 This Confidential Investigation Report is the property of the NSF OIG and may be disclosed outside NSF only by OIG under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, 5 U.S.C. $5 552, 552a. NSF OIG Form 22b (11106) Executive Summarv Allegation: Plagiarism. OIG Inquiry: A proposal submitted to NSF by a PI and two co-PIS contained text copied from multiple sources without appropriate citation. Our Inquiry eliminated the co-PIS a s subjects. We referred the allegation to the PI'S home institution. University Investigation and Action: The University concluded the P I was responsible for the material in the proposal, and a preponderance of evidence proved the P I carelessly plagiarized. For a period of 1 year, the P I is prohibited from being a PI-he must be a co-PI-on proposals for external funding. For 3 years, the PI'S proposals must be reviewed before submission; and the P I must instruct new faculty on the seriousness of plagiarism and methods t h a t can be used to check their work. OIG Assessment: We concur with the University the PI plagiarized, but conclude he did so knowingly, not carelessly. The Act: The P I copied approximately 137 lines of text verbatim and 1 figure from 17 sources, without quotation marks or appropriate citation, into the proposal. Intent: Given the PI'S unaltered use of a figure, together with large blocks of verbatim text from multiple sources, we conclude the P I acted knowingly. Standard of Proof: The University and OIG used a preponderance of the evidence to reach their conclusions. Significant Departure: We concur with the University in concluding the PI'S copying represents a significant departure from community standards. Pattern: We discovered a second proposal with copied text i n it. OIG Recommends: Send the co-PI a letter of reprimand informing him NSF is making a finding of research misconduct; 1 year debarment; Require certifications (a copy of University's certifications) for 3 years; Require assurances for 3 years; Require the co-PI to attend a n ethics class and provide a copy of the training materials from the course. OIG I n q u i r y During the merit review of an NSF proposa1,l we received an allegation the proposal contained plagiarized text. We initiated an inquiry and identified approximately 147 lines of text and 2 figures copied verbatim from 18 sources. The copied material occurred in nearly every section of the proposal: "1.Project Overview," "3. Material Preparation," "4. Spectroscopy," and "5. " The proposal listed a PI (Subject A2) and two co-PIS(Subject B3 and Subject C4), a11 from different universities. We wrote each subject asking for an explanation.5 Subject B and Subject C called us and then responded jointly in writing,6 whle Subject A responded independently.7 Subject A also called and gave a n oral response before submitting a written response. Subjects B and C said they considered the resolution of the allegation important and agreed to cooperate with our inquiry. They were "shocked to see the "many verbatim insertions in the proposal of sentences, figures, and excerpts taken from published documents, without proper referencing."g They said they were "unaware of these verbatim insertions" as "the proposal was almost entirely written by the PI."g They noted they reviewed the proposal, but nothing appeared unusual with regard to the text or references. Subject B pointed out one of the alleged sources that contained a figure was from a paper he had published.10 Although Subject A did not cite this in the proposal, Subject B provided it to him and was a co-PI, so we have omitted this figure and source in our description of the copied material. In Subject A's oral response, he said he did not write the questioned material; he said his former postdoctoral researcher (FPR) prepared most of the material for a report submitted to a state agency. He said he incorporated material from that document into his proposal without checking whether it was properly referenced. We asked he provide proof of this in his written response, and he agreed. In his written response, Subject A said he had prepared the proposal in good faith. He said "[b]ecause of the languages generic nature neither I nor my two collaborators identified the need for referencing."ll He stated his acceptance "that each comment should have been rewritten and fully referenced."lz In his written 1 (redacted). The proposal and its alleged source documents are Appendix (A). 2 (redacted). 3 (redacted). 4 (redacted). 5 The letters to the three subjects were similar, a n example of which is Appendix (B). 6 Subject B's and Subject C' joint response is Appendix (C). 7 Subject A's first response is Appendix (D). 8 Appendix (C), p. 2. 9 Id. 10 This is Source 10 in Appendix (A), which corresponds to Figure 1in the proposal. l 1 Appendix (D), p. 1. 12 Id. Pg. 2 response, he implied, but did not state, he did not write the questioned material in the proposal by obliquely noting "it never occurred to me that the sentences were direct copies of other documents."l3 After receiving his written response, we asked him why it differed from his oral response and why he did not provide the contact information for FPR. He said he did not want us to contact FPR because they had had a n acrimonious parting, and she still had influence with powerful faculty members in his department who would use this a s a n excuse to deny him tenure. We explained our procedure, and we would refer this to his home institution for resolution. He became very concerned about a referral and asked if he could submit another written response that would address our concerns in lieu of a referral. We agreed he could submit a more detailed response. His second response came via his attorney14 and included a statement from his attorney and a further explanation from Subject A.15 His attorney said the proposal was sloppy, but he did not deliberately attempt to deceive anyone; thus, he did not commit research misconduct. Subject A said he "accept[s] full responsibility for the errors in the proposal."lG He added "that many, if not all of [the copied passages] were taken in toto from other sources without proper attribution."l7 He asked FPR to provide "introductory or basic explanatory material"l8 as input to the state agency report. He said he was aware of the ethical standards regarding proper attribution, but "there was no emphasis on formal scholarship"l9 for that document. However, he considered much of the questioned text a s "unremarkable and describ[ing] basic concepts";20 "elementary and non-controversial";21 and "accepted wisdom."22 He said "it is apparent that I did not make it sufficiently clear to my students that proper attribution is required even for mundane passages."23 Subject A described his haste in preparing the proposal and several personal and professional problems that contributed to the copied text in the proposal. He ' concluded by saying he has purchased software designed to find copied text. Subject A did not provide the requested contact information for FPR. He did provide a 'Bibliometric Analysis' of his publications that shows how often they are cited; however, as it did not address the allegation, we did not consider it useful for our inquiry. 13 Id. 14 (redacted). 15 Subject A's second response through his attorney is Appendix (E). Appendix (E) contains the attorney's statement and Subject A's further response. 16 Appendix (E), p. 3. 17 Id. 18 Ibid.,p. 4. 19 Id. 20 Ibid.,p. 5. 21 Ibid.,p. 6. 22 Ibid.,p. 8. 23 Ibid.,p. 12. After several additional discussions with Subject A and his attorney, we finally learned FPR's name, but no contact information. Subject A provided a copy of the state agency report he and FPR co-wrote.24 He also provided documentation of his later difficulties in working with FPR and some evidence she had plagiarized in another document after leaving his research group. As we did not receive satisfactory evidence supporting his assertions, we finally referred the matter to his home institution for investigation.25 The University's Actions The University conducted a n inquiry t h a t recommended "a more detailed analysis [ I be made by a committee of [Subject A's] peers of adequate citation in his other publications, the level of care exercised i n the preparation of the proposal under consideration, and other related circumstances."26 As a result of this recommendation, a n investigation was conducted by a n advisory committee to the Interim Vice President of Research, The committee was composed of high-level administrators27 who "unanimously agreed on the conclusions in the [ ] report .'728 The committee reviewed the proposal and various source documents, interviewed Subject A, corresponded with FPR, and reviewed Subject A's prior NSF proposal submissions. The committee concluded there "has been clear and admitted reproduction of material for this NSF proposal without attribution (or correct attribution) from a variety of s0urces."~9As noted previously, the subject said FPR copied the questioned material for a state agency report, rather than the proposal, and it was he who incorporated the copied text into the proposal. The committee contacted FPR regarding her role in the preparation of the original document. FPR did not substantiate Subject A's claims and admitted only limited writing, essentially amounting to one paragraph (approximately 10 lines) and material incorporated from Subject B's paper (which included one figure).30 The committee did not dwell on the details of who wrote the text, but took a larger view and "recognize[d] that [Subject A], a s the signatory to the NSF proposal, is responsible for the material contained in it."31 Accordingly, it concluded Subject A "as principal investigator of the proposal, did commit plagiarism and is solely responsible for the material in the proposal."32 24 Appendix (F). 25 Our referral letter is Appendix (G). 26 Appendix (H) is the notification from (redacted). 27 The committee was composed of the two Associate Vice Presidents for Research, the Director for Compliance, the Associate Dean from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Associate Research Dean from the College of Engineering, and the Interim Vice President for Research. 28 The University's revised report is Appendix (I). 29 Appendix (I),p . 2. 30 FPR's response is Appendix (J). 31 Appendix (I),p. 3. 32 Id. Pg. 4 The committee concluded Subject A's action "constitutes a significant departure from accepted practice of the relevant professional community."33 With regard to Subject A's intent, the committee found "no evidence that the plagiarism was committed knowingly or intentionally."34 The committee's reasoning for Subject A's intent was based on his own responses, which the committee accepted, and its own reasoning t h a t "the sheer volume of the plagiarized material without any citations indicates a clear intent on his part to put i n the citations prior to proposal submission which he failed to do."35 I t therefore concluded "the preponderance of the evidence . . . shows the actions of the principal investigator demonstrate a significant level of carelessness."36 The committee used a search engine37 to review the last several years of proposals on which Subject A was either PI or co-PI. I t found no evidence of a pattern of plagiarism and concluded Subject A's "use of information without attribution in this NSF proposal appears to be a surprising and significant aberration i n the career of a n otherwise excellent and promising researcher." As this proposal was not funded, the committee opined "it is not believed t h a t the impact is significant a t this point (although [the University] does not want to minimize the seriousness of this of the fact t h a t the researchers whose material was purloined may feel otherwise)."38 The committee recognized some contributing factors a t the time, such a s the recent birth of Subject A's child, his over- commitment of resources, and interpersonal issues within his department. Although the committee found the plagiarism was committed carelessly, it recommended administrative action "based on the sole fact that plagiarism occurred i n a proposal sponsored by [the University]."39 I t recommended the following steps: For l y e a r , o Subject A is prohibited from submitting proposals a s the sole PI-he must name a collaborator from the University a s PI. For 3 years, o Subject A's proposals must be reviewed by two senior researchers before submission to a sponsor; o The review will be conducted using all reasonable efforts, such a s search engines and plagiarism software; o Subject A must instruct new faculty members enrolled in the University's P I certification course on the seriousness of plagiarism and on the techniques to check their work.40 33 Id. 34 Ibid.,p. 4. 35 Id. 36 Id. 37 Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com). 38 Appendix (I), p. 5 . 39 Id. 40 Ibid.,p. 6. Pg. 5 These recommendations were accepted by the University adjudicator41 a s well a s Subject A.42 OIG's Assessment We found the University's initial report incomplete i n assessing the available evidence, and it did not clearly address several factors we outlined in our referral letter. We asked the University to clarify its conclusions and provide evidence to support them. The University's revised report was more thorough, and we accept it a s complete.43 We conclude it followed reasonable procedures i n its investigation. While we accept most of the University's conclusions, we disagree with its assessment of Subject A's intent and its assessment of evidence of a pattern of plagiarism.44 Subject A claims FPR copied the majority of the unattributed, verbatim text for use i n a state agency report, and he used t h a t document a s a basis for his proposal. FPR acknowledges copying only one figure and one paragraph. There is not complete overlap of copied text i n the state agency report and the proposal, leading u s to conclude Subject A copied the non-overlapping material. The state agency report lists only Subject A a s its author, which tends to support FPR's testimony to the committee t h a t she did not contribute significantly to it. I n considering Subject A's and FPR's statements, we agree with the committee's reasoning t h a t held Subject A, a s PI of the NSF proposal, responsible for the copied material i n it. We concur with the University that a preponderance of evidence supports the conclusion Subject A committed plagiarism. Subject A claims FPR wrote much of the previous state agency report and therefore she was responsible,for the copied text in that document. If his version were true, then his knowingly t a h n g sole authorship credit for the state agency report would have been ethically questionable a s he did not give appropriate credit to FPR, who he is now claiming was a significant author of t h a t document. Then, if he further incorporated FPR's previous material into his proposal without acknowledging her authorship, he would have also violated NSF's Grant Proposal Guide:45 NSF expects strict adherence to the rules of proper scholarship and attribution. The responsibility for proper attribution and citation rests 41 (redacted), Executive Vice President and Provost. 42 We noted the adjudicator's response (Appendix I) states the University is "willing to take necessary corrective action with" the subject. We called the Vice President for Research to ask about the odd phrasing and whether the actions were actually implemented. He said he was under the mistaken assumption NSF had to approve their actions. I explained this was not the case as the University acted in its best interests independently of NSF. The VP said the subject agreed to the actions, and the VP would implement them. 43 See Appendix (I). 44 For our discussion of intent, see p. 7 of this ROI. For our discussion of evidence of a pattern of plagiarism, see p. 8 of this ROI. 45 Grant Proposal Guide, NSF 04-23, I.D.3 Full Proposal (http:/Iwww .nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods~key=gpg). Pg. 6 with authors of a proposal; all parts of the proposal should be prepared with equal care for this concern. Authors other than the PI (or any co- PI) should be named and acknowledged. Serious failure to adhere to such standards can result in findings of research misconduct. Therefore, by his own account, Subject A did not give FPR authorship credit i n the proposal a s required. Since the amount of copied text is significant, his deprivation of authorship credit would be a serious failure to adhere to NSF's standards. I n any case, for the reasons discussed above, we conclude Subject A's claims are not supported by a preponderance of the evidence; thus, he was responsible for the copied text. THEACT Subject A copied 1figure and approximately 137 lines of text verbatim from 18 sources, without quotation marks or appropriate citation, into the proposal.46 The University committee determined this action met the definition of plagiarism, and we concur. INTENT The committee concluded Subject A acted carelessly in plaparizing. Subject A's proposal had a significant amount of unattributed, verbatim copied text, including one copied figure, from multiple sources. The committee suggested this "sheer volume of plagiarized material without any citations indicates a clear intent on his part to put i n the citations prior to proposal submission," but t h a t "he failed to do" so, and t h a t the failure was due to "a significant level of carelessness."47 We disagree. While copying a few lines from a single source may be careless under some circumstances, copying from 18 sources indicates knowing action. Taking all the evidence into account, we conclude a preponderance of the evidence supports the conclusion Subject A acted knowingly in copying 1figure and approximately 137 lines of text verbatim from 18 sources without appropriate citation. NSF's Research Misconduct Regulation states t h a t a finding of misconduct requires: (1)there be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and (2) the research misconduct be committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and (3) the allegation be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.48 We conclude a preponderance of the evidence shows Subject A acted knowingly when he copied text from multiple sources into his proposal without citation. We concur with the University his action was a significant departure from 46 AS described earlier, there were a total of 2 figures and 147 lines of verbatim text copied from 19 sources in Subject A's proposal. After our inquiry, we omitted one source as it included one of the co- PIS as a n author; one figure had been copied from that source. After the University investigation, we omitted the 10 lines the FPR admitted preparing for the previous document. Therefore, Subject A is responsible for the remaining 1figure and 137 lines of verbatim text, all copied without appropriate attribution from 18 sources. 47 Appendix (I), p. 4. 48 45 C.F.R. § 689.2(c). accepted practices. Hence, we conclude Subject A's action is plagiarism and is research misconduct. OIG's Recommended Disposition I n deciding what actions are appropriate when making a finding of research misconduct, NSF must consider several factors. These factors include how serious the misconduct was; whether it was a n isolated event or part of a pattern; its impact on the research record; and other relevant circumstances.49 Pattern The committee reviewed50 Subject A's prior proposals for evidence of a pattern of plagiarism and found none, concluding his copying in this proposal "appears to be a n aberration."51 We reviewed two of Subject A's prior NSF proposals for plagiarism. One of them52 was submitted before our inquiry began and one of them53 afterward. The proposal submitted after our inquiry began did not have copied text. The proposal submitted before our inquiry began had approximately 25 lines of text copied from 4 different sources.54 Importantly, this proposal designates different sections with different authors and, apart from 3.5 lines of copied text in the Overview, all remaining copied text was in Subject A's section.55 Thus, we conclude there is evidence of a pattern of plagiarism. Impact on the Research Record The plagiarism occurred within a declined proposal, so the harm to the research record was minimal. Mitigating Factors The committee concluded Subject A's "events a t home and a t work a t the time, over commitment of resources, [and] miscommunication" resulted i n Subject A's "significant degree of inattention to detail in compiling the documentation for this proposal."56 Many scientists have challenges like these and do not plagiarize. Additionally, it is unlikely all these factors contributed to Subject A's plagiarism in two different proposals at two different times. Accordingly, we discount the importance of these factors a s contributing to the extensive copying from multiple sources. However, Subject A h a s informed us he has purchased plagiarism software to avoid repeat instances, and his proposal submitted after our investigation did not have any plagiarism. 49 45 C.F.R. §689.3(b). 50 The committee utilized Google Scholar. 51 Appendix (I), p. 6. 52 (redacted). The subject is the PI and two other (redacted) faculty are listed as co-PIS. 53 (redacted). The subject is the PI apd two other researchers are listed as co-PIS. 54 Appendix (K). 55 One paragraph was copied verbatim from a published paper. In the middle of this copied paragraph is a citation () that also appears in the copied paragraph in the paper; this copied paragraph appears on p. 9 of the proposal. It is clear this was cut and pasted because citations  - [lo] are first used on p. 11of the proposal. 56 Appendix (I p.)6., Pg. 8 Recommendations Send Subject A a letter of reprimand informing him NSF is making a finding of research misconduct; Debar Subject A for 1year; Require certifications (a copy of University's certifications) for 3 years. The certifications should be sent to the Associate Inspector General for Investigations (AIGI) in the OIG; Require assurances from Subject A for 3 years t h a t all documents he submits to NSF are either his original work or are properly cited. The assurances should be sent to the AIGI; and Require Subject A to take a n ethics course and provide a copy of the training materials to the AIGI. Subiect's response The subject did not respond to the draft report. Pg. 9
Published by the National Science Foundation, Office of Inspector General on 2007-12-06.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)