NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS CLOSEOUT MEMORANDUM Case Number: A05090069 Page 1of 1 We learned in September 2005 about a n allegation of plagiarism in a proposal submitted to NSF. The proposal1 listed a PI and two co-PIS, all a t the same University.2 We referred the allegation to the subjects' university. The University concluded one of the co-PIs3 was responsible for the copied text in the proposal, but held all three accountable. I t required a committee to review for plagiarism all submissions of the three for one year. We agreed with the University's conclusions and recommended NSF make a finding of research misconduct against the co-PI for plagiarism. NSF agreed and took the additional recommended action of requiring the subject to certify for 1year that any proposals submitted by the subject contain no plagiarized, falsified, or fabricated material. NSF required the co-PI to take a course on research ethics and plagiarism. 111 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) (footnote redacted). 3 (footnote redacted). NSF OIG Form 2 (11102) National Science. , . Office of Inspector General Confidential Report of Investigation Case Number A05090069 CONFIDENTIAL NSF OIG FORM2 2 (1103) ~ E x e c u t i v e Summarv Allegation: Plagiarism. OIG Inquiry: A proposal submitted to NSF by a PI and two co-PIS contained text copied from multiple sources. We referred the allegation to the subjects' home institution. University Investigation and Action: The University concluded a preponderance of evidence proved one of the co-PIS recklessly plagiarized, and the P I and other co-PI were negligent in their review of the proposal. All accepted responsibility for their actions. A certified committee of researchers will review all submissions from the PI and both co-PIS for external funding for a period of 1 year. OIG Assessment: We concur with the University that the co-PI plagiarized, but conclude he did so knowingly, not recklessly. T h e Act: The co-PI copied approximately 47 lines of text verbatim from 6 sources, without quotation marks or appropriate citation into the proposal. The co-PI admitted to copying from the source documents. Intent: Given the co-PI'S admission, we conclude the co-PI acted knowingly. S t a n d a r d of Proof: The University and OIG used a preponderance of the evidence to reach their conclusions. Significant D e p a r t u r e : We concur with the University in concluding the co-PI'S copying represents a significant departure from community standards. P a t t e r n : None. OIG Recommends: Send the co-PI a letter of reprimand informing him NSF is making a finding of research misconduct; Require certification (a copy of University's certification) for 1year; Require assurance for 1year; Require certification of attending an ethics class. Pg. 1 OIG Inquiry During the pe'er review of an NSF proposa1,l a n allegation was raised that the proposal contained plagiarized text. We initiated a n inquiry and analyzed the proposal with our plagiarism software and identified approximately 47 lines of verbatim text copied from 6 sources. The proposal listed a PI (Subject A2) and two co-PIS (Subject B3 and Subject C4), all from the University. We wrote each subject asking for their perspective on this allegation.5 The subjects responded jointly that they were taking the allegation seriously and had referred the matter to the University.6 They said some of the copied text was "probably appropriate a s . . . [it] appear[s] to be strongly in the 'public domain'."7 However, the subjects also acknowledged "the inadequacy of citations of previous research in the 'literature review7."8 They wrote the questioned text was prepared by Subject C, a research associate, but Subject A and Subject B conceded they did not provide enough supervision during the preparation of the proposal. As the subjects had already informed the University, and the University initiated a formal review process, we referred the allegation to the University for investigation while deferring our 0wn.9 The Universitv's Actions The University charged a Committee to conduct a n inquiry to assess the allegation. ' The Committee collected documentation of the subjects' communications with OIG, including the proposal and alleeWdsource documents, and interviewed all three subjects. The Committee wrote a report summarizing its investigation and findings. 10 I n the interviews with the Committee, all three subjects "agreed that parts of the literature review in the NSF [proposal] were not correctly cited."ll Subject C took responsibility for the copied text, and admitted he used full sentences from other sources. He said he planned to re-write the text, but r a n out of time, and did not realize this was inappropriate. Subject A took responsibility for his failure to carefully review the proposal. Subject B said he did not read the entire proposal. 1 (footnote redacted). The proposal and its alleged source documents are Appendix (A). 2 (footnote redacted). 3 (footnote redacted). 4 (footnote redacted). 5 The letters to the three subjects were the same, a n example of which is Appendix (B). 6 Their response is Appendix (C). 7 Appendix (C), p . 1. 8 Id. 9 Our referral letter is Appendix (D). 10 The Committee's report is Attachment (E). 11 Attachment (E), p. 2. Pg. 2 The subjects, in support of their belief that some of the text was in the public domain, referenced a CDC12 website acknowledging "'materials produced by Federal agencies are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.'"l3 The Committee cogently articulated its conclusion that, "it is not apparent to us that either the concept of public domain or the idea that content can be reproduced without permission implies that text passages written by another person can be reproduced without attribution."l4 The Committee noted the subjects "do not deny this behavior satisfies the definition of misconduct," and concluded "this is a clear case of plagiarism."l5 The Committee recommended the matter be referred to the institution's standing research misconduct committee.16 The Committee also acknowledged "all parties are attempting to take some corrective action in response to this incident" and suggested one alternate course of action would be for the University to "require for period of a year future grant applications from the three investigators to be certified by a committee of . researchers."l7 The University's adjudicator (the Chancellor)l8 reviewed-the Committee's report and met with the subjects.19 Based on the report and additional information the subjects offered during their interview with the Chancellor, he determined the act constituted plagiarism and all three subjects were "responsible for the content of the grant proposal."20 In determining the appropriate adjudicative action, the Chancellor considered the fact that the subjects had taken responsibility for their actions and indicated a "willingness,to accept the proposed corrective action of the Inquiry Committee."21 Therefore, the Chancellor determined for a period of one year any future grant proposals must be reviewed by a certified committee of researchers.22 This adjudicatioLapplied to all three subjects. OIG's Assessment We accept the University's report as accurate and complete in collecting the facts, and we conclude the University followed reasonable procedures in its investigation. We found the Committee was thoughtful in assessing the available evidence, but did not clearly address several factors we outlined in our referral letter. So we asked the University to clarify its conclusions.23 l2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 13 Attachment (E), p. 2. 14 Id. 15 Id. 16 Id. 17 Ibid.,p. 3. '8 (footnote redacted). 19 The University's cover letter, Chancellor's adjukcation, and the subjects' responses are Appendix (F). 20 Appendix (F), pg. 3-4 21 Ibid.p. 3 Appendix (F), p. 4. 23 Our letter to the University and its clarifi'cation are Appendix (G). The University clarified that a preponderance of evidenced proved Subject C recklessly committed plagiarism and that his actions were a significant departure from accepted practice. It concluded Subject C acted recklessly "because his act was a serious deviation from the way a reasonable person would have acted under similar circumstances."24 I t noted that although Subject C professed ignorance about plagiarism, the University's policy, which he is required to follow, clearly ' spells out his action is misconduct.25 The University concluded a preponderance of evidence proved Subject A and Subject B acted negligently in not adequately reviewing the proposal and Subject C's writing prior to submission of the proposal. We admire the University's high academic standards by holding Subjects A and B accountable for the contents of their proposal. We concur with the University's assessment of Subject A and Subject B. We agree their intent was negligent (careless), which, according to our regulation, does not meet the threshold for a finding of research misconduct. We disagree, however, with its assessment of Subject C's intent. Subject C admitted to copying and he did so with the intent of replir-asing the text but ran out of time. Therefore we conclude he acted knowingly when he was copying. We think other factors raised during the University proceedings, particularly his inexperience, more properly mitigate the recommended actions rather than the intent. Subject C copied approximately 47 lines of text verbatim from 6 sources, without quotation marks or appropriate citation into the proposal. Subject C admitted to copying text from the source dociments. The University Committee determined this met the definition of and the University Chancellor agreed. We concur with the University's assessment. As noted in the University report, Subject C acknowledged he "pulled full sentences from other texts."26 He said he planed to re-phrase the text, but he ran out of time. Although the University determined his actions to be reckless, we conclude the preponderance of the evidence shows Subject c'knowingly copied text. We concur with the University that a preponderance of evidence proves Subject C's action is a significant departure from accepted practices, or as the University described it, his actions significantly departed from what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances. We concluded he acted knowingly. Thus, we conclude Subject C's action is plagiarism and constitutes research misconduct. 24 Appendix (G), p. 3. 25 The policy gives examples of misconduct, one of which-"cutting and pasting text from the web without quotation marks or proper citation"-is representative of Subject C's action 26 Appendix (E), p. 2. Pg. 4 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 an isolated event or part of a pattern; its impact on the research record; and other relevant circumstances. Seriousness Subject C copied approximately 47 lines of text from 6 sources. Although this is not the most egregious case seen by our office, the acts are sufficiently serious to warrant action to protect the Federal interest. Pattern .Neither our office, nor the University, uncovered evidence of a pattern of plagiarism in the materials reviewed. As a result ;f this allegation, Subject C's dissertation advisor reviewed'his dissertation and found no evidence of plagiarism.27 Impact o n the Research Record The plagiarism occurred within a declined proposal, so there was minimal harm to the research record. Mitigating Factors As noted earlier, all subjects accepted responsibility for the proposal-Subject C for the plagiarized text, and Subject A and Subject B for inadequate review. The committee also noted Subject C's relative inexperience in preparing proposals. ,. Recommendations We recommend NSF send a letter of reprimand to Subject C informing him he has been found to have committed plagiarism, hence research misconduct.28 Since Subject C will have his grant proposals certified by a University-appointed Committee of Researchers (COR) for 1year, we recommend NSF require Subject C to provide to OIG a copy of the COR certification for 1year,29 I n addition, we recommend NSF require Subject C to provide to OIG a certification that nothing he submits to NSF for a period of 1year violates its research misconduct regulation.30 Finally, as noted by the committee, Subject C does not have a lot of experience i n preparing proposals. Accordingly, we recommend NSF require Subject C to take an ethics class to better learn about ethical issues and scholarly standards regardmg plagiarism. Subject C should provide documentation to OIG that he has attended the ethics class. Subiect's Response Subject C did not respond t o the draft report. - 27 Ibid. p. 3. 28 This is a Group I action; 45 CFR 5 689.3(a)(l)(i). 29 This is a Group I1 action; 45 CFR 5 689.3 (a)(Z)(ii). 30 This is similar to a Group I1 action; 45 CFR 5 689.3 (a)(Z). Pg. 5 , . NATIONALSCIENCE FOUNDATION 4201 WILSON BOULEVARD ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA 22230 AUG 1 0 2007 OFFICE OF THE DEPUTY .DIRECTOR CERTIFIED MAIL --RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED Dr. Re: Notice of Research Misconduci Determination Dear Dr. In 2005, you served as a co-~I'ona proposal submitted to the National Science Foundation ("NSF") entitled, " " As documented in the attached Investigative Report prepared by NSF's O f i c e o f Inspector General ("OIG"), this proposal contained plagiarized text. Research Misconduct and Proposed Sanctions Under NSFYsregulations, "research misconduct" is defined as '?fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing or performing research hnded by IVSF .. ." 45 CFR 5 689.1,(a). -NSF defines "plagiarism" as "the approprjation of another person's ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit." 45 CFR $689.l(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 5 689.2(c). Your proposal contained verbatim and paraphrased text fiom several source documents. You conceded that you were the primary author of the "literature review" sections of the proposal - the sections that contained the plagiarized text. 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 else's work as your own. In addition, you failed to properly acknowledge or credit the authors of the source documents in his proposals. 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 a finding of misconduct based on a preponderance of the evidence. 45 CFR $ 689.2(c). After reviewing the Investigative Report and the University Committee findings, NSF has determined that, based on a preponderance of the evidence, your plagiarism was committed knowingly and constituted a significant departure fiom 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, 11, and LII) 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 fiom 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. ~ ~ ' C F §689.3(a)(l). R Group I1 actions include award suspension or restrictions on designated activities or expenditures; requiring special reviews of requests for fimding; and requiring correction to the research record. 45 CFR §689.3(a)(2). Group I11 actions include suspension or termination o f awards; prohibitions on participation as NSF reviewers, advisors or consultants; and debarment or suspension fiom participation in NSF programs. 45 CFR $ 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,as well as our determination that it was an isolated incident. I have also considered the fact that your misconduct did not have a significant impact on the research record, your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions, and the contrition that you demonstrated during the course of the investigative process. I have also considered other relevant circumstances. 45 CFR § 689.3 (b). In light of the foregoing, I am requiring that: (1) in accordance with the University's action, you provide to the OIG a copy of each certification issued by the University's Committee of Researchers for any grant proposal submitted to NSF; (2) for any proposal that you submit to NSF fiom the date of this letter until August 1,2008, you provide written assurance to the OIG that your proposal does not contain plagiarized, falsified, or fabricated material; and (3) by December 3 1,2007, you take a course on research ethics and plagiarism, and submit proof that you have done so to the OIG. Certifications and assurances should be sent to the OIG at the National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230. Procedures Governinn 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 §689.10(a). Any appeal should be addressed to the Director at the National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 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 call Assistant General Counsel, at (703) 292-8060. Sincerely, Kathie L. Olsen Deputy Director ~nclosures - Investigative Report - 45 C.F.R. Part 689
Published by the National Science Foundation, Office of Inspector General on 2007-09-10.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)