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Almost one in 10 Wits health academics ‘witness misconduct’


University says it "has robust policies" to deal with academic misconduct, following study publication

Nearly one in 10 academic staff at the University of the Witwatersrand’s health faculty have witnessed misconduct, including plagiarism and data fabrication, a survey has indicated.

The survey, published in a 28 July paper in The Journal of Scientific Practice and Integrity, investigates perceptions of research integrity and scientific misconduct at the university’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

Of the 1,385 academic staff members and 2,425 postgraduate students invited to take part in the study, only 168 staff and 265 postgraduate students participated. Nevertheless, the paper’s authors say the sample was broadly representative of the faculty.

None of the respondents admitted to having fabricated data in the last 12 months. One staff member said they had falsified data and two postgraduates students said they had plagiarised data.

‘Concern’ over data revision

Only small proportions of respondents—at most, 2.5 per cent—said they had felt pressured in the past year to plagiarise, falsify or fabricate data, or to present misleading results.

However, 9 per cent of responding staff said they knew of cases where someone in their department had presented misleading results. And 12 respondents—six staff and six postgraduate students—said they had selectively deleted or changed data after performing data analysis to confirm a hypothesis.

The study authors say the incidence of data altering by staff, while low, is “especially concerning”. Such attitudes “could give rise to further misconduct which would be both detrimental to science and to patient care”.

Responding to a request for comment from Research Professional News this week, a Wits spokesperson said the institution would need a couple of weeks to work up a full response to the survey’s finding.

They said: “The university has robust policies and rules in place to deal with academic misconduct and when these issues are reported they are dealt with effectively and appropriately.”