Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Researcher found to have deceived colleague — and perhaps sabotaged others — decides to study plagiarism

with 5 comments

Jatinder Ahluwalia apparently did some pretty bad things as a researcher at University College London. As we reported in November, in an investigation related to a Nature retraction, a research misconduct panel at UCL found that:

Ahluwalia “renumbered the files to deceive [another coauthor,] Professor [Lucie] Clapp as to the results of his patch clamping experiments,” adulterated his reagents so his results would look better, and sabotaged his colleagues’ work.

The panel said that the file renumbering charge was proven “beyond reasonable doubt,” and “that on the balance of probabilities it was highly confident”  that the other two charges had been proven. It also concluded unanimously that Ahluwalia had acted alone.

So he knows from research misconduct, in several of its forms. There’s one that he doesn’t seem to have engaged in, however, and that’s the one he’s decided to study in his new position at the University of East London:

Plagiarism.

We were alerted earlier this week to Ahluwalia’s new research interest by a Retraction Watch reader. Specifically, Ahluwalia has published a study in Bioscience Education, “Students Turned Off by Turnitin? Perception of Plagiarism and Collusion by Undergraduate Bioscience Students.”

The company that makes Turnitin — which perhaps should be called “Turnthemin” describes it as

the leading academic plagiarism detector, utilized by teachers and students to avoid plagiarism and ensure academic integrity.

Ahluwalia and his co-author, Andrew Thompsett, did the study

to provide qualitative data on the perceptions of plagiarism and collusion of final year Pharmacology students.

Unfortunately for Turnitin,

The results from the pilot study suggested that students did not find Turnitin (UK) easy to use neither did they perceive it as a useful learning tool.

The study also looked at whether students engaged in collusion, or even understood what it was:

The data also demonstrated that undergraduate Bioscience students were confused in distinguishing between plagiarism and collusion and suggests a need for the reinforcement of the explanations of these terms.

We’re fairly sure that regardless of whether collusion has a place in academia, it is quite the opposite of deliberate deception, let alone sabotage.

We were confused ourselves by this sentence:

Interestingly, the data suggests that although the majority of the students questioned agreed that plagiarism was cheating as well as ethically and morally wrong fewer students felt that plagiarism could be defined as cheating.

So we had some questions for Ahluwalia about this study, but as with our attempts to reach him in the past, we couldn’t get him to respond for comment.

Comments
  • BTC January 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I may be reading this incorrectly, or perhaps the term ‘collusion’ means something entirely different here, but to collude traditionally is considered an act between two or more parties to deceive or defraud.

    These acts are generally performed secretively, but I don’t really see a difference between deliberate deception and collusion, seeing as both acts accomplish the same ends.

  • Ms Ecks January 22, 2011 at 2:56 am

    I wish everyone would stop pretending that Turnitin is a tool to help students learn about how to reference properly. If this were the case students would be able to choose whether to use it.

    My university requires everything to be submitted to Turnitin, even personal reflection pieces. They refuse to mark it otherwise. Your essays then become forever part of Turnitin’s database, which I find to be an invasion of privacy.

    It is quite possible that it doesn’t even work if someone is intent on plagarising. I think from memory that it recognises strings of 7 words verbatim match as plagarising. How easy would it be to substitute a synonym every 5 or so words and rephrase sentences while still not contributing an original thought or acknowledging the original?

    • Peter Moseley April 11, 2011 at 8:58 am

      As far as I am aware (I’ve worked with Turnitin) the service requires that the author of the work has given permission for the work to be submitted. If this is done under pressure by the tutors then it is an issue. In addition, you should be able to submit work either anonymously or under an assumed name and it is your tutor’s responsibility to ensure that this is possible to protect your privacy. I suggest you take this issue up with your student union.

  • Neuroskeptic January 22, 2011 at 6:14 am

    What? He’s still got an academic job? Why?

  • QStel January 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Because the UK has a large number of frankly lousy universities (with lousy scientific morals, apparently).

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