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Tangled webs unwoven online

Website dedicated to uncovering academic misconduct goes global

Referee giving player a red card

Source: Alamy

Whistleblowers: integru.org wants academics to uphold integrity in their fields

In Romanian, the word “integru” is used to describe someone who is fair, honest, just and incorruptible. A new watchdog website, integru.org, hopes to clamp down on those scholars who don’t fit the bill.

The idea behind the site, which has been likened to a Wikipedia of plagiarism detection and went global last month, is that anyone can flag up work they suspect has been subject to academic misconduct and it will then be investigated by independent reviewers.

These reviewers – on whose time and generosity the site heavily relies – are chosen for academic expertise in their field. They look for flaws in the conduct (although not the content) of work, and their conclusions are published openly on the site.

Anyone can recommend a reviewer, although each is verified by site administrators, and anyone can suggest a case to investigate.

The idea is for the process to be open and peer-driven, said one of the founders, a researcher of Romanian nationality working outside the country who spoke to Times Higher Education on condition that he remained anonymous.

“It’s similar to the peer-review process for academic papers and very simple. Reviewers receive a link with a unique ID and see three questions. They answer, click ‘submit’ and that’s it,” he explained.

The idea has the same potential weaknesses (such as reviewer bias) as peer review, but it tries to avoid these by making the process open, with reviewers chosen by peers, not editors, and reviews published in full.

The website’s co-founder believes it is a way for academics to uphold the integrity of their fields in the absence of an international authority on research misconduct.

Created as a Romania-focused platform in August last year, integru.org has so far published 10 cases, with reviewers including David Tománek, professor of physics at Michigan State University, and Andrew Galloway, chair of the department of English at Cornell University.

Investigations, which have turned up alleged plagiarism in journal art-icles, PhD theses and grant applications, have included looking at work by Romania’s prime minister Victor Ponta and former education minister Ecaterina Andronescu.

The founder defended the website’s insistence on anonymity for its founders, saying it helped to protect integru.org from attacks on its credibility, which would harm the impact in countries where corruption levels are high.

The main reason for anonymity, however, was that the focus should be on named reviewers, who were “the only actual authority and public voice” behind the platform, he said.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

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