Modern Research and its Associated Problems

The Research Issues
Modern research has played a significant role in solving life’s mysteries, and has, paradoxically, sometimes added to them, a la the test tube baby and human cloning. With the advent of time, scientists will delve deeper to deliver landmark results in many areas, such as discovering cures for hitherto untreatable diseases, or preventing a cyclone before it causes damage. We can visualize technologically innovative energy sources and their futuristic applications like manipulating the external environment to sustain life on the Moon. Research is an integral part of human activity and is affected by all the factors that have a bearing on human beings in any way. However, amid all such advancements and applications, it is also critically important to recognize the hurdles in the path of modern-day research, and to find solutions to improve future researches.

The Research Issues:

  • Practical problems: The problems faced by modern-day research are usually practical ones, such as devising ways and means to increase energy supply to meet the global demand or eliminate environmental pollutants.
  • Ethical issues: In course of their work, researchers are often confronted with certain ethical implications, especially those associated with experiments involving human genetic manipulation, critical organ transplantation, and so on.
  • Challenges for young researchers: Research contracts are generally short-term, which are granted for a period of 3-4 years. This discourages in-depth research on any research problem as it becomes difficult for young and ambitious researchers to present a detailed and satisfying result in the research paper. This builds up enormous academic stress on many talented budding researchers.
  • PhD programs do not help much:  PhD programs offer limited opportunity to the students to equip themselves with the training necessary for pursuing a career beyond the academia. As a result, the number of PhD students graduating every year stands at a new high, but limited academic posts are available for them.
  • Project funding: Due to the overflowing number of grant applications and research proposals, most of them are rejected by the funders. As a case in point, NIH (National Institutes of Health), which funds biomedical research, has reduced its acceptance rate to 18.3% since 2015.
  • Career prospects: A large proportion of researchers will not be able to secure a coveted faculty position in their chosen field of research due to overcrowding of PhD scholars. There is no strict definition for a post-doctoral researcher position, and the job titles often range from employee to associate, trainee, and student. No proper employee status, salary, and other benefits are being provided to the researchers. In addition to this, parental leave is completely subject to the wish of the supervisor. This seems to be a highly prevalent problem in the Indian context. A post-doctoral position is not really a typical job, but only a transitional position. What you aim to gain from such a position depends on the stage of life you are in, the year of your research, etc. Invariably, a re-evaluation is needed each year.
  • Reproducibility crisis: Previously, researchers used to carry out experiments on any existing study outcome for reproduction, with the objective of validating the findings. But modern research is facing an acute reproducibility crisis because of the indifference shown by funding agencies toward such researches. Usually, they prefer to support new or innovative researches. Even research journals are reluctant to publish such studies. Such studies are only entertained in cases where the outcome contradicts the old findings. Often, the low sample size or the poor study design of the old study impedes researchers in replicating the study results.
  • Publication bias: Due to the accelerating publication pressure, scientists are forced to produce flashy results that will enable their paper to get through the editorial peer review process for publication. However, all research papers are not published; only those with a unique conclusion or positive results get through for publication.
  • Citing negative results or selective reporting: Most research journals today have a high rejection rate (nearly 90%). This implies that only papers with the most distinctive findings make it to publication. During the 1990s, 30% of the published papers cited negative results; they have now drastically reduced to 14%. This reflects the apathy of publishers toward researches with negative results and their predilection for positive results. Even project funding affects what the researchers study and publish. Yet, knowing what is false is as important to science as knowing what is true.
  • Plagiarism: Plagiarism refers to the practice of affiliating someone else’s work to one’s own and using the findings as one’s own. With short-term projects and constricted timelines, researchers are now opting for this dangerous shortcut to present their paper. However, plagiarism is not at all acceptable in any form and is considered a serious breach of professional conduct, which may lead to legal as well as ethical consequences.
  • Paywall research: The gateways for disseminating research findings have also been a major reason of dissatisfaction among the research community. The subscription charges of paywalled publishers like Elsevier run up to $10,000 or $20,000 a year. This renders them beyond the reach of many researchers. In fact, some scientists pay the charges from their salary as they do not have a budget allocation for such expenditure.

These are some deleterious issues that have plagued the very essence of research.

Understanding Research Paper Retraction

retraction
“The main purpose of retractions is to correct the literature and ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors who misbehave.”- COPE (Committee of Publication Ethics)

An author is expected to submit a paper after checking and rechecking the paper to ensure that it adheres to the journal guidelines and also complies with the general ethics. The paper is again peer reviewed by the journal for accuracy. However, in spite of so many checks, some papers get published with gross discrepancies and are subsequently retracted. Most often, the authors are asked to retract the paper.
A paper is bound to get retracted by editors for reasons such as:

1. Presentation of unreliable data due to misconduct or an honest error
2. Unethical research
3. Plagiarism
4. Re-presentation of data published earlier, for which the author has failed to provide proper referencing or obtain necessary permissions.

Action after detection

In many cases, the journal thoroughly investigates the kind of flaws present in the paper after issuing a warning, which is generally termed as ‘expression of concern.’ If very serious kinds of flaws, such as in correct representation of data or unethical research or plagiarism to an extent where it cannot be ignored is found then in such cases retraction of paper becomes essential. Before the editors of the journal take any action the authors are given an opportunity to retract the paper themselves without citing any reasons. Editors retract a paper as a last resort.

Information of retraction

After the decision to retract the paper has been made, the online version is marked and (or) the pdf version is watermarked ‘retracted.’ A statement is issued clearly stating all the related information about the paper and a valid reason for the retraction. The statement also states who retracted the article. Care is taken to avoid a defamatory statement and. any harmful repercussions that could mislead publications.

Effect of retraction

Retraction of a paper is a source of shame and disgrace for all stakeholders, including the author(s) and the journal. The journal has to bear the shame of not being able to filter the paper before publication and the author gets a black mark on his academic profile forever.

Purpose of retraction

Retraction is a mechanism for alerting the readers and the research fraternity about the publication of the erroneous data and findings published in the paper. It is also a warning against the use of flawed data by others.

Best time to retract

It is best to act as soon as the editor detects the flaws to avoid further damage. This will prevent readers and other researchers from being misled.

The adage “prevention is better than cure” holds true for retractions too. Therefore, the authors should take great care to check the paper carefully before submission to avoid discrepancies and the ignominy of having their paper retracted after publication.

Self-Plagiarism : Unethical Practices in Scholarly Publications

Is it wrong to reproduce one’s own content partially or completely in another publication? The answer is YES, although many people believe to the contrary.

Self-plagiarism is an unethical practice, and is almost as undesirable as plagiarism somebody else’s work. In the world of journal publications, self-plagiarism—or plagiarism for that matter—leads to two major problems: duplicate publications and simultaneous publications. Let’s look at these terms in greater detail.

Self-plagiarism or simultaneous submissions is an unethical practice.

Publication of a paper that has substantial similarities with a paper already published in some other journal is known as a duplicate publication. In duplicate publications, authors source the contents from a prior publication of their own or from the work of others without proper permission. When sourcing any information from published papers, it is mandatory for you to seek prior permission from the publishers as they often hold the copyright to the published paper and not the author of the paper. Another alternative is to use the reproduced information within double quotation marks and clearly indicate the original source. However, the latter solution will only work when the reproduced text is just a sentence or two and used to support your own text.

Submission of the same manuscript to two or more journals at the same time without informing the publishers is known as simultaneous submissions.It is considered as an ‘unethical publishing behavior’ because it could engender a copyright dispute. In addition, publishing the paper at two separate places leads to waste of resources of the publishers and the scientific and academic fraternity as a whole. However, a paper written in a particular language can be translated and published in a different journal after acquiring the necessary permissions.

Duplicate publications and simultaneous submissions have serious consequences. An author engaging in such unethical practices is liable to be summarily rejected by the publishers. Worse still, the offenders could be banned from submitting any paper in the future or blacklisted, which means that they will not be able to get their paper published in any journal.

The scholarly ability and integrity of authors come under the scanner when they use such illegitimate means to get their work published. It is very important to keep the dos and don’ts in mind while publishing a paper and follow the guidelines specified by the target journal. If information published elsewhere is critical for your own research, you need to ensure that you do not violate the time-honoured code of publication ethics. This is because honest and ethical publications area sine qua non for the development of the scholar community.

Retraction of Publications

Your published articles give you recognition as a writer and boost your academic credentials. However, there are special circumstances when an article might be withdrawn or cancelled even after its publication. This process is called retraction of publications.

Research articles go through a review process prior to publication. However, there are occasions when major errors are detected in a research paper after it is published. In such circumstances, the journal is forced to issue a retraction notice to withdraw the publication. Retraction enables journals to alert or inform readers about the errors in the findings or conclusions of the paper. Some journals, however, retract papers without citing specific reasons because they fear a loss of credibility in the journal. In recent months, there is a discernible increase in the retraction rate in the publication industry.

According to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), publications can be retracted by journal editors if:

  • They have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g., data fabrication) or honest error (e.g., miscalculation or experimental error).
  • The findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper cross-referencing, permission or justification (i.e., cases of redundant publication).
  • It constitutes plagiarism.
  • It reports unethical research.

Even though retraction of a publication is the decision of the journal’s editor, sometimes the author of the paper may also be asked by the editor to formally issue the retraction. In some journals, both the editor and the author issue the retraction notice. Nevertheless, the journal’s editor can retract the published paper unilaterally in case the author refuses to do so.

The retraction notice should cite the reasons for the retraction and clarify whether the retraction is for misconduct or for honest and genuine mistakes. The notice also needs to mention whether the publication is being retracted by the editor or the author. Retracted publications should not be removed either from online or printed copies of the journal; instead, the status of the retraction should be clearly indicated in the publication.

Retraction of publications is likely to have an adverse impact on the credentials of both the author and the journal. Therefore, it is important to take precautionary measures to avoid such a scenario.

Is self-plagiarism ethical?

Research papers or journals are the medium of spreading knowledge and new ideas evolved. Innovative and original piece of work would certainly be more educative and admirable. Nevertheless, authors and writers are often found to be reusing their old piece of work or some extracts from their previous published papers while writing a new research paper.

When questions are raised against this content reuse, authors claim that those stuffs are their own works and materials, and thus, they can reuse them as they wish, and it cannot be termed as plagiarism since they have not stolen the ideas from any other author or source.

The ethics of plagiarism are not applicable to such reuse, as a result of which it has been overlooked till date. While the discussion is whether this reuse is ethical or not, the publications and the journals, on the other hand, have set certain guidelines for such works citing it as Self-plagiarism.

What is self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism is a form of plagiarism where the writer reuses his/her own previously published work in portions or entirely while creating a new study paper. It can breach the publisher’s copyright on those published work when it is reused in the new study papers without appropriate citations. Let us now know more about the ethical aspects of self-plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism can be detected when:

a)  A published paper is used to republish elsewhere without the consent of the co-authors and the publisher of the paper or work.

b)  A paper of a large study is published in small sections with an intention to increase the number of publications.

c)  A previously written work either published or not is reused again in portions in the new study papers.

Although the laws of self-plagiarism are not enforced, it somehow reflects the dishonesty of the author. Moreover, the journals and the publishers are rejecting such copy-paste works as they are seeking writings based on original research findings and proper citations of all the references.

Nowadays, journals are also pointing out questions on the reuse of one’s own work. In order to avoid self-plagiarism, one should try to keep his/her work original, and in case it is necessary to include any portion from his/her previous works, it should be then properly cited with proper references. I hope this article will surely help you in detecting prospective self-plagiarism before submitting your paper or work to publications or journals.

Writing Accurately

One way to effective writing is writing accurately. This makes your writing not only factually and grammatically correct but also ensures that readers can easily understand your ideas.

Try these simple guidelines for accurate writing:

1. Use quantification

While writing, provide measurements and numbers instead of ambiguous words to improve the accuracy of the paper.

Consider the following examples

Vague: The government had implemented this policy a few years ago.

Revised: The government had implemented this policy in 2009.

Vague: This year, many students attended the science seminar.

Revised: This year, 200 students attended the science seminar.

2. Avoid common words

Use words with the intended meanings in your writing.

Consider the following examples of the commonly used word over

During: The new session would begin over the summer.

Onto: He cautiously sprinkled water over the newly-planted saplings.

More than: The village owned over 10000 acres of forest land.

From: We collected the samples over three districts.

To: We applied two types of sampling over the data.

Across: They collected data over different ethnic groups.

Through: Always go over the examples given in the book.

With: People and relationships change over time.

Consider some examples of the word wrong

 

Vague: The Director’s decision was wrong.

Revised: The Director’s decision was financially costly for the Institute.

Vague: This measurement is wrong.

Revised: This measurement is incorrect.

 

Vague: Plagiarism is wrong.

Revised: Plagiarism is unethical.

Vague: She was wearing the wrong clothes.

Revised: She was dressed inappropriately.

Some other examples

Vague: The football team consists of good players.

Revised: The football team consists of experienced players.

Vague: The management took a terrible decision.

Revised: The management took an irresponsible decision.

3. Use specific words

Using specific words instead of phrases helps to sharpen your writing. However, be careful not to categorize or label your readers. Discretion is advised.

Examples:

Vague: Creative advertising helps in increasing the number of people who buy the products.

Revised: Creative advertising helps in increasing the number of customers.

Vague: The government should take strict actions against those who terrorize and kill people.

Revised: The government should take strict actions against the terrorists.

PLAGIARISM AND HOW TO AVOID IT

The general context

Plagiarism means copying or in some way reproducing someone else’s work without giving them credit or acknowledgement. In many ways, it is a form of stealing consistent with the etymological root of ‘plagiarism’, which in Latin means ‘kidnapping’. Using another’s work without permission and/or credit signals one of three different situations: copyright breach, plagiarism or invasion of privacy (Branscum, 1991; Howard, 2003; Leval, 1990).

Copyright is a legal issue. If you use without permission work that has been published in a tangible medium or patented, you breach copyright and are liable to lawsuits. However, copyright expires after a certain amount of time, when the work becomes part of the public domain. Copyright law was designed to protect the rights of producers of literary and artistic artifacts. However, public access to such artifacts also needed legal protection, so the doctrine of fair use was created as an amendment to copyright law. Fair use entails using a part of a work for purposes that benefit the public good, such as for education. According to fair use, you may use another’s work without permission if:

  • You are using only a fraction and not the complete item.
  • You give credit to the original source.
  • The item has been published and is, therefore, not private.
  • The purpose is educational.
  • Your use of the material will not affect the market value of the original.

Government documents are considered public property and are not copyrighted. This does not mean to say, that you can copy material from them without citing the source. Or else, this would be plagiarism. If you reproduce a work or part of a work without acknowledging the original creator, and present it as being your own, you are plagiarizing, even in cases where the work is not copyrighted.

Copyright protects only the tangible expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Plagiarism regulations cover the unacknowledged reproduction of the idea itself. Individual scholars produce and publish ideas for their livelihood, and any unacknowledged use of their hard work is both injury and insult. These accounts for the heavy penalties universities impose on students convicted of plagiarism; although legal sanctions do not apply in such cases, the ethical violation carries an equally serious consequence, exclusion (temporary or permanent) from the community.

Plagiarism can be avoided by:

  • Summarizing – expressing in your own words the gist of a document, and citing the source.
  • Paraphrasing – expressing in your own words the gist of a part of an idea, and citing the source.
  • Quoting – copying the exact words of a section of the original document, putting them in quotation marks to set them off from your own words, and citing the source.

All ideas that you take from other texts need referencing. The only exception is common knowledge. Common knowledge consists of propositions and statements that did not originate with the writer, but that are accepted facts in the wider community. Examples include such propositions as ‘Berlin is the capital of Germany’, ‘The Earth is a planet’ and ‘Three plus two equals five’. This, however, is not always so straightforward because knowledge, in many cases, is dependent on the community in which it is used. When using another’s work you may also be invading their privacy, a legally sanctioned offence. This generally occurs when you publicize information that the originator kept personal or private. If you publish your roommate’s journal on the Internet, for example, you are infringing on their privacy. If you publish the journal and present it as your own, you are also plagiarizing.

The professional context

As the last example shows, the professional world presents a challenge to conventions regarding plagiarism. Instances exist in business and industry where presenting another’s work as your own is an accepted practice. Examples include boilerplate text and public relations documents. Boilerplate is standardized text that can be reproduced verbatim, or with minor alterations, for different audiences and documents. For instance, letters sent to clients to inform them of company developments or changes work on the boilerplate model, all recipients get basically the same letter, with only the opening address differing. In such cases, the individual whose name appears on the document is not the same as the one who wrote a section of the document.

Public relations documents are also often anonymous, attributed to anyone who may be a PR officer at a particular time, or written by someone other than the one whose name appears on the document. For instance, corporate websites and promotional material, such as brochures, often contain segments written by different individuals, and they can be updated by rewriting some sections, reorganizing information by cutting and pasting from different sections, etc.  all without acknowledging the original source. Furthermore, speeches and articles of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), and other senior personnel, are more often than not written by the company’s professional writers, but presented as the CEO’s own words. The original writer in these cases has nothing to show but financial remuneration and secret pride. These cases are more variants than aberrations of the plagiarism conventions discussed in the previous section. In the corporate world, the company takes precedent over the individual in matters of production. In many cases, new staffs are asked to sign agreements stating that their work belongs to the company; producing material that the company can use is part of their job description. This is publicly known and acknowledged as business convention; therefore the CEO who puts his name on an article written by his writers is not morally or legally reprehensible. In such instances, the corporation is seen as a body, and acting as an individual. Stepping outside the boundaries of a company, however, would transgress this convention. If a writer of X company, for example, used material that a writer of Y company wrote, he/she would no doubt be plagiarizing. Other documents, especially those that involve major finalisable projects, follow rules akin to those of academic contexts. For example, proposals to management for funding and/or approval of a project always include writers’ names, and so do reports describing the results of an investigation. Also, in such reports, the writers are expected to cite their sources of information, and to quote, summarize and paraphrase as appropriate. Besides giving credit where it is due, citing sources, in both professional and academic contexts, enhances a writer’s accountability as well.