New confidential adviser on academic integrity: ‘I aim to be as approachable as possible’

Professor Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade is the new confidential adviser on academic integrity. ‘Staff members can come to me with their questions and concerns, such as whether something is really fraud, or just a careless use of sources.’

Ingrid Tieken is also interested in this topic in her academic work, particularly in plagiarism by 18th-century English grammarians

Ingrid Tieken is also interested in this topic in her academic work, particularly in plagiarism by 18th-century English grammarians

Tieken is Professor of English Sociohistorical Linguistics. She previously acted as confidential adviser for PhD candidates at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.

Why did Leiden University create this new post?

'The unprecedented scientific fraud by Tilburg Professor Diederik Stapel shocked the university world. His fraud impacted not only his own field, psychology, but on the entire academic world. It called into question the reliability of academic research. As a result, an agreement was made within the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) that each university would investigate its own integrity policy. Leiden University already had a Committee for Research Integrity and Academic Conduct where staff members can lodge complaints or suspicions about possible violations of integrity. However, the cases handled by this Committee are generally already at an advanced stage, when someone has already filed a formal complaint. There is a need for a confidential counsellor with whom staff members can discuss their concerns at an earlier stage.‘

What kind of questions are we talking about?

'I have not yet been approached on any specific issue, and I have no idea how often my advice will be required. Staff members can come to me with their questions and concerns. They might question, for example, whether something really is fraud, or just a sloppy use of sources; or they may be unsure what they should I do if they think a colleague of mine has simply taken over someone else’s idea? I can advise them and maybe reconcile the parties involved. It might be enough to make a new agreement on issues such as referencing the authors’ names, so that there’s no need to involve the Committee. But this is something that will have to considered on a case-by-case basis. Researchers who are having doubts about their own approach can also contact me. What I am hearing is that the increased focus on academic fraud is making some researchers feel rather insecure. They’re unsure when they really do have to mention a particular source and when not. Staff members can contact me either by e-mail or by telephone to make an appointment, which will take place in a neutral location. I aim to be as easily approachable as possible.’

When is a researcher overstepping the mark?

‘Researchers have to respect the Netherlands Code of Conduct for Scientific Practice published by the VSNU. This code stipulates that researchers have to demonstrate accuracy, reliability, verifiability, impartiality and independence. For each of these principles, the Code indicates how best to comply with requirements, for instance by keeping all research material for a minimum of five years. Obviously, researchers always have to reference their sources when writing about someone else’s idea. And it goes without saying that failing to mention findings that are inconvenient is strictly forbidden.’

Why does a researcher overstep the mark?

‘I'm not a psychologist, but I have taken a good look at possible motivations. Time pressure and the pressure to publish are two possible reasons. Journals are not so interested in research with less promising results, so it can be difficult to get this kind of work published. Plagiarism can be a conscious process, but it can also be the result of carelessness. For example, researchers paste information from a text in a document that they are writing, and later forget that these were not their own words. Even so, this kind of behaviour is still inexcusable; as a researcher, you have to be very precise.’

(4 June 2013)

Later this year, a new portal on academic integrity will become available on the university’s website. In addition, the faculties are asked to focus even more on this issue within the study programmes. All the advice given by the Committee for Research Integrity and Academic Conduct is anonymised and published on the website. Students can address their questions to their lecturers or Study Adviser.

The Board of Examiners handles cases of plagiarism involving students, and is responsible for reaching a decision on such cases (for instance, by excluding the student in question from one or more examinations for a given period of time). If the student refutes the claim, he or she can appeal to the Examination Appeals Board.

Last Modified: 10-12-2013