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The Next Battle in Higher Ed May Strike at Its Soul: Scholarship

Even from the most renowned academics, cases involving Stanford, Harvard, and M.I.T. are adding to the scepticism about the depth of research.

Stanford University President Resigns Amid Academic Misconduct Investigation

In August, Stanford’s President Mark Tessier-Lavigne resigned as serious flaws were discovered in studies conducted under his oversight for decades. Meanwhile, Harvard’s President, Claudine Gay, stepped down at the beginning of the new year amidst rising allegations of literary theft during her undergraduate days.

Former MIT star professor, Neri Oxman, faced accusations of plagiarism not only from other sources but also from Wikipedia in her research papers. Her husband, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, was among Dr. Gay’s staunchest critics. Allegations prompted scrutiny of MIT’s involvement, leading to an investigation by its committee and Chair Sally Cornblath.

Recent years have seen attacks on the integrity of higher education escalate rapidly. The Federal University Blues investigation, exposing bribery and fraud by affluent parents securing spots for their children in bio-data-fabricating colleges, sparked a debate on merit and admissions policies, particularly favoring Asian American students. Protests against Israel-Hamas conflict demonstrated allegations of administrators tolerating anti-Jewish sentiments on their campuses.

Now, attention focuses on what the essence of higher education could be: scholarship. The cases vary – Dr. Tessier-Lavigne and Dr. Gay were faces of their institutions, while Dr. Oxman is a former affiliate. Dr. Gay and Dr. Oxman, both prominent in their fields, faced no charges of lifting words, and accusations didn’t extend to research theft. Unlike Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, they didn’t have to return any documents.

However, recent controversies have helped fuel suspicion that some academics aren’t as rigorous as they should be.

Retraction Watch co-founder Ivan Oransky said, “I understand that universities have their built-in problem, keeping a database of retracted papers that has now surpassed 46,000.” “He has tried in every way to avoid admitting that corruption is so common in the education world, and sometimes it leads to fireworks – let’s face it – bad-faith actors who want to undermine confidence or diminish the reputation of an institution,” said Dr. Oransky, much more is yet to come. A congressional committee announced it would investigate “hostile takeover” of higher education by “political operatives, woke entities, and biased administrators.”

A cottage industry of scrutinizing research papers emerged in the past two decades, with Retraction Watch, the Center for Open Science, and Data Colada blog dedicated to exposing flawed data-based research. Dr. Oransky noted that the number of retracted research papers retrieved over time has increased dramatically, with over 10,000 international retractions in 2023, an annual record, compared to around 400 papers in 2010 when Retraction Watch started.

He speculated that it might be partially because investigations have sped up. Nature also credited the rise to the increasing role of data in papers.

Dr. Oransky said, “What’s different this time is the level at which it seems to be impactful – Harvard and Stanford. These are seismic events.” Dr. Gay, a government and African and African American Studies professor, recommended some improvements in her research papers and citations.

However, she continued her work, and an external panel cleared her of research misconduct. A review panel found Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist, wasn’t personally involved in data manipulation or aware of it but suggested “improvements in laboratory oversight and management.”

Renowned architect and designer Dr. Oxman apologized on social media for some inaccuracies in her research papers. Not everyone thinks the education sector is riddled with deceit. Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, is disappointed that in their efforts to defend Dr. Gay, some educators suggested that literary theft was common in her ranks.

Dr. Voss said, “I saw some defenses of Claudine as accepting a false statement, which really wasn’t happening at the level that her defenders suggested.” “‘This happens all the time’ is not an argument.”

Dr. Gay accused Dr. Voss of mischaracterizing two aspects of his work in her research paper. Dr. Voss said he wasn’t bothered as she was his teaching assistant at Harvard, helping him teach introductory quantitative analysis, and later, they were collaborators in the same lab. He said, “It would be entirely natural for her to use my ideas in her work.”

Claudine Gay’s story will force everyone to be a little more careful about quotations.

Internet and Turnitin: A Double-Edged Sword in Academia

The use of software such as the Internet and Turnitin, designed for academic publication and research, can simplify the detection of literary theft. Academics and administrators have employed this software more against students than against those monitoring literary theft. Scholars worry about the future of artificial intelligence—will it bring more literary theft or better identification?

Yet, until now, the software has been used more against students than professors and administrators. Many scholars are concerned that the weaponization of attacks on research will be used as a tool by politicians, donors, and even other scholars to go after their intellectual adversaries. Dr. Voss stated, “There is a widespread sentiment in American culture towards intellectual vitality, and recent events have supported this.”

Hedge Fund Parsing Square Capital Management Chief Criticizes Harvard Professor Dr. Gay:

Hedge fund Parsing Square Capital Management Chief Mr. Ekman, a vocal critic of Dr. Gay at Harvard, faced allegations ranging from tackling anti-Semitism in the environment to supporting diversity, equality, and inclusion policies. His accusations of literary theft became part of his attack.

When Dr. Gay announced she would resign from her presidency but remain in the faculty, Mr. Ekman posted on Ex: “If she has no serious literary theft issues, there is nothing wrong with staying in her faculty position. Students are forced to move at even less cost.”

Mr. Ekman declined to comment on this article.

This is an attack related to copyright and literary theft advisor Jonathan Bailey, who also operates the Literary Theft Today website. He said, “It’s worrisome that the heat has increased, and those evaluating have academic research or journalism honesty in their minds.”

Retraction Watch Item Against Dr. Oxman:

As accusations against Dr. Gay continued until the day before her resignation, similar charges persisted against Dr. Oxman. On Thursday, Retraction Watch posted a blog item stating that nearly 100 words were lifted from a 2000 physics world article published in Dr. Oxman’s thesis without quotation or citation. The blog stated that he learned about the overlap from a sports engineer, Steve Hake, who originally wrote the article.

Dr. Oxman responded the next day in a statement emailed through his husband’s spokesperson, saying, “I have never intentionally presented someone else’s words or thoughts as my own. In the process of writing a 330-page research essay, I missed some footnotes and some quotation marks. If AI software was available in 2009, I could have avoided these errors. Mistakes are simply a part of my humanity.

However, attacks on academic integrity will certainly continue. “While President Gay’s resignation is welcome news, problems at Harvard are much larger than one leader, and the committee will continue its oversight,” said Representative Virginia Fox, a North Carolina Republican who heads the House Education and Workforce Committee after Dr. -Education. She said, “Gay’s resignation on January 2.”

Crisis of Confidence in Universities: The 1980s Dilemma

In the 1980s, universities globally faced a crisis of confidence, grappling with concerns about literary theft and manipulated data in scientific research, particularly at institutions like Harvard. Eminent figures, including former Democratic representatives Al Gore of Tennessee and John Dingell Jr. of Michigan, led inquiries to scrutinize these issues.

According to histories published by federal agencies, educators argued that research misconduct was rare, while politicians contended it was underreported. Many witnesses either downplayed the problem or asserted that declaring scientific fraud a crime would create a climate of fear detrimental to research.



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