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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 19, 2013

File Under "Nerve, Lots Of"

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Posted by Derek

From an editorial in Science written by the president and the vice-president of the European Research Council:

Imagine sitting over a pile of applications submitted to one of the most prestigious funding agencies. Suddenly, what you read appears familiar—not only the idea, but its terminology and the methods proposed. You recognize entire sentences because you wrote them. This scenario must have been an utter surprise for one of the European Research Council’s (ERC’s) evaluation panel members who, last year, stumbled across the most bizarre case of scientific misconduct that the organization has witnessed so far.

Yep, the application had been copied from one of the reviewer's own grant applications, submitted a few years before on a different continent. It was just bad luck for the plagiarist that their copy-paste job landed up on the desk of the scientist who wrote it in the first place. But as the editorial goes on to say, the ERC ended up being unable to take any actions against this person (except, one assumes, denying the opportunity to fund them). Another case is mentioned from 2011, where an applicant from a "respected European university" forged a document in a grant application. The ERC notified the university, but that institution took no action until the person had applied for another grant while forging yet another document. Reading between the lines, you can see the whole editorial as (perhaps) a plea for being given powers to actually do something about these situations, or at the very least, a plea for those who can do something to actually do it once in a while.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Dark Side


1. Anonymous on September 19, 2013 8:14 AM writes...

The most obvious action in this case would be to write a letter explaining the situation (with all the evidence) to the director of the institution at which the academic works. That, and post some excrement to his/her home address.

Permalink to Comment

2. anon on September 19, 2013 9:07 AM writes...

Shame the fraudsters. Such academic research grants go to those who crave fame in academic circles. Making the plagarism public in suitable trade journals (Science for AAAS or C & EN news chemistry ect). That will do all that is needed to tarnish fraudulent reputations and shame the high flyers in exactly the right circle.

Permalink to Comment

3. weirdo on September 19, 2013 9:46 AM writes...

Yeah, this one seems kind of easy:
publish the two grant applications side by side on the web, and publicize that you have done so. Let the Interwebs take over.

Permalink to Comment

4. Derek (another one) on September 19, 2013 9:56 AM writes...

Re weirdo's plan. Probably get you in trouble with privacy laws and I suspect there is also something in the granting agency's rules about not divulging the contents of applications. You might end up with some moral satisfaction but on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Permalink to Comment

5. Anonymous on September 19, 2013 10:15 AM writes...

There should be an exception to disclosure rules in the case of misconduct. Otherwise what would stop the perpetrator from trying again with a different agency? Not their home institution seemingly.

Permalink to Comment

6. a. nonymaus on September 19, 2013 11:06 AM writes...

This seems like a case where recent draconian copyright laws could be used. How many copies were sent to the granting agency? At U.S. rates for statutory damages, it's $150K each....

Permalink to Comment

7. johnnyboy on September 19, 2013 11:09 AM writes...

Wasn't it Robert Gallo who was said to distribute the grant applications he was reviewing to his own research team ?

Permalink to Comment

8. bank on September 19, 2013 12:08 PM writes...

To play Devil's Advocate... It all depends on what was copied. If it is a portion of the background information for a proposal, then the offense is minor. If however it is an idea not previously public, or a part of the proposals per se, then the perpetrator should be fired.

Permalink to Comment

9. dearieme on September 19, 2013 2:07 PM writes...

That's a reversal of the usual situation where the reviewer steals the applicant's ideas.

Permalink to Comment

10. newnickname on September 19, 2013 3:40 PM writes...

@7 johnnyboy: Leo Paquette gave a copy of a taxol grant app he was refereeing to a post-doc who then copied portions of it (verbatim, including typos in the citations) into a proposal submitted by Paquette the following year. It got caught by another observant referee. I think it was Bob Holton's proposal and the plagiarism was caught by JK Whitesell? The other way around? As I recall, Paquette claimed it wasn't his fault. Investigating authorities thought otherwise and held him responsible.

Permalink to Comment

11. newnickname on September 19, 2013 3:50 PM writes...

@10 Paquette: Paquette was not formally accused of lifting the idea for K5 from third parties but that story made the rounds for a while. Identical syntheses of K5 (Paquette; Simmons) were published back to back in Tet Lett in 198something.

Permalink to Comment

12. Anonymous on September 19, 2013 4:14 PM writes...

Things like this are happening all the time, now just because it hit a big guy in the face he takes action...
Delaying papers under review, copy-paste actions and stealing ideas are the new ethics in science, selling flawed results to the reader is the new scientific writing.

Sad but true.

Permalink to Comment

13. Iridium on September 20, 2013 2:21 AM writes...

Most universties would do not punish their own professors. It has been seen many times.

I support the idea of reporting the fact on ACS, Wiley and other major journals.
Maybe this would finally motivate institutions to do the right thing.

Permalink to Comment

14. Anonymous BMS Researcher on September 20, 2013 5:24 AM writes...

My parents both taught at a State University. Once my father showed a student paper to another Professor IN HIS OWN DEPARTMENT asking if he recognized some suspiciously-professional passages in the paper. In a few moments my dad's colleague exclaimed, "I wrote these words!"

Permalink to Comment

15. Anonymous on September 20, 2013 1:28 PM writes...

In addition to my earlier statement (12) I feel the wording 'prestigious funding agencies' is absolutely out of line.

There is no foundation for this self-accrediting-ego-trip.
Moreover, prestige is a unit of measure contradictory to hard sciences. Every piece of data has to be scrutinised according to good scientific practice and rational assessment.

Permalink to Comment

16. JackP on September 20, 2013 6:43 PM writes...

I had the same thing occur to me when I worked in industry. I received a specification proposal from a potential supplier that turned out to be identical to a specification proposal that I'd written to an internal organization a few years earlier. It's a very strange feeling.

Long story short, we had an employee that was earning extra money as an industrial spy. He eventually served 20 months in federal prison.

Permalink to Comment

17. Eddie on September 21, 2013 3:53 PM writes...

A lecturer in the University department I work in was the external for a college at one of Britain's elite Universities. She was at the college for the graduation, and was told that one student was to be sent down, because that student had plagiarised one her papers. She was very angry - not because the paper had been plagiarised, but because the paper had only been credited with a B grade!

Permalink to Comment

18. Anonymous BMS Researcher on September 21, 2013 9:49 PM writes...

Once, about 18 years ago, I saw something I had written in a published book without attribution. Some of the staff at that B. Dalton bookstore probably still remember my expostulations.

Permalink to Comment

19. Anonymous on September 22, 2013 7:33 AM writes...

Recently I found that somebody on LinkedIn had copied my personal profile verbatim, I actually felt quite honoured! LOL

Permalink to Comment

20. Sili on September 23, 2013 11:34 AM writes...

publish the two grant applications side by side on the web, and publicize that you have done so. Let the Interwebs take over.
To get around the privacy issue, just post your own and highlight the eminently googlable bits. Permalink to Comment

21. John on September 27, 2013 12:57 PM writes...

In someone else's masters thesis, I read large parts of a paper I had written. Needless to say, the thesis was not accepted.

Permalink to Comment

22. John on September 27, 2013 12:57 PM writes...

In someone else's masters thesis, I read large parts of a paper I had written. Needless to say, the thesis was not accepted.

Permalink to Comment


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