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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Research integrity - Part 4

Earlier this month, Professor Dr A Murad Merican of Universiti Teknologi Petronas wrote an article in Utusan Malaysia entitled "Kegiatan 'boncengan gratis' hakis kesarjanaan dan hikmah universiti". Among other things, he wrote of some academics who become free-riders who put their names on research papers and academic articles while in actuality, they are not really involved in the research.

Free-riding is a phenomenon that should not be encouraged. This sort of thing actually happens anywhere, even outside the academia. Imagine someone doing all the hard work, and suddenly someone else who does not do anything joins in to take the credit. A person with integrity will never take credit for something he/she is not involved in.

Free-riding in the academia can be seen as early as the undergraduate years. I remember one incident pretty well. I taught a compulsory subject for a few semesters. Every semester I would give out group assignments to the students as part of their overall assessment. In one semester, one group came up to me after lecture complaining that one their members did not contribute anything. They actually asked my permission to drop this student's name because they felt that he did not deserve any marks since he did not contribute. I agreed with their request. After all, it was a group assignment. The assignment was meant for each team member to contribute. It would not be fair for someone who did not contribute anything to be rewarded based on the hard work of others.

I have also been told of incidents involving the academia who would chip their names in on journal papers so that they can meet their key performance indicator (KPI). In truth, they did not do much in terms of the actual research for the paper. I remember writing a paper to be presented at an international conference, and I asked my supervisor to be the co-author. She declined, saying that it would not be right for her name to appear on a paper which she did not have any contribution to. If only all academics are like her.

I was also told of academics who took sole credit for papers written by their postgraduate students. This, to me, is uncalled for. This is plagiarism of the highest order. Could it be that in the race towards meeting one's KPI, one is willing to do anything even things which lack integrity? KPI is a measure of performance, but to achieve the KPI, I believe integrity should be upheld and observed. That is why I think that the suggestion of a research integrity officer (which was put forward in Part One) should be implemented. Otherwise, we will have people who will cut corners and be free-riders just for the sake of achieving their personal KPI.

As a concluding remark for this posting, I would like to share a reminder by my former boss, Datuk Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas before I left my position at IKIM. He said to me, "Whatever you do, don't let other people take credit for your ideas." Although it has been more than five years ago, his words are still loud and clear.

Free-riders are in essence people who take credit for ideas that are not theirs. Where is the integrity in doing so?

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