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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL RESEARCH ARTICLE
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 30  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 140-145

Knowledge of scientific misconduct in publication among medical students


1 Department of Community Health Sciences, Hamdard College of Medicine and Dentistry, Hamdard University, Karachi, Pakistan
2 Department of Medicine, Shalamar Hospital Lahore, Lahore, Pakistan
3 Department of Medicine, Arif Memorial Hospital, Lahore, Pakistan
4 Final Year MBBS Student Dow Medical College, Karachi, Pakistan
5 Department of Medicine, Civil Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan

Date of Web Publication19-Sep-2017

Correspondence Address:
Syed Muhammad Mubeen
Hamdard College of Medicine and Dentistry, Hamdard University, Madinat Al-Hikmah, Mohammad Bin Qasim Avenue, Karachi
Pakistan
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/efh.EfH_221_16

  Abstract 

Background: Publication is a central element in research dissemination and scientific misconduct in publication is relatively ignored in biomedical research. This study is to assess the knowledge of scientific misconduct in publication among private and public sector medical students. Methods: A questionnaire-based cross-sectional study was carried in four (two public and two private) medical colleges of Karachi in 2015. After ethical approval, data were collected through convenient sampling and analyzed in SPSS 16.0. Descriptive statistics was used to summarize the data and Chi-square test was used for cross tabulation with sex, type of medical colleges, and knowledge of scientific misconduct in publication. Results: A total of 592 medical students participated with mean age of 22.2 ± 1.47 years. The majority (491, 79%) of medical students had heard about the word “publication ethics,” higher among public sector students than from private sector (P < 0.001). Only 78 (13.2%) reported to had published original articles, and 64 (10.8%) and 53 (9%) medical students had heard of “ICMJE authorship criteria” and “COPE,” respectively. Knowledge about fabrication of data and scientific misconduct in publication was found to be statistically significant (P < 0.05) among males than female students. Statistically significant differences were also observed between public and private medical students for knowledge regarding salami slicing, ghost author, fabrication, and photomanipulation (P < 0.001) and for plagiarism (P < 0.005). Participants from public sector colleges scored significantly better in all above variables than private medical colleges except knowledge about salami slicing in which participants from latter performed significantly better than public sector students. Discussion: The study demonstrates deficiencies in knowledge regarding several aspects of publication ethics among medical students of both public and private medical colleges in Karachi. There is a need to increase the awareness of research and publication ethics among students during their academic years.

Keywords: Ethics, fraud, medical students, publications, research ethics, scientific misconduct


How to cite this article:
Mubeen SM, Qu, Ghayas R, Adil Rizvi SH, Khan SA. Knowledge of scientific misconduct in publication among medical students. Educ Health 2017;30:140-5

How to cite this URL:
Mubeen SM, Qu, Ghayas R, Adil Rizvi SH, Khan SA. Knowledge of scientific misconduct in publication among medical students. Educ Health [serial online] 2017 [cited 2020 Oct 31];30:140-5. Available from: https://www.educationforhealth.net/text.asp?2017/30/2/140/215090


  Background Top


Research has played a pivotal role in the progress and evolution of medical sciences. In this era of evidence-based medicine, published updated literature is the major source for effective patient care and finding solutions for unanswered scientific questions is the main reason behind conducting a research.

In ethical research, taking out publication forms the central element. Specific interest in publication ethics has led to the creation of several institutions that aim to foster ethical publication practices. Prominent among these are the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), whose criteria for authorship have been widely adopted.[1] However, the ethics of publication are relatively ignored and scientific misconduct in publication that includes fabrication (reporting of experiments never performed), falsification (misrepresentation of results), and plagiarism (taking the writings or ideas of another and representing them as one's own) of data or ideas are noticed. Other serious deviations from accepted research practice are irresponsible authorship, duplicate publication, salami slicing, bias, and conflict of interest and/or intentional erroneous use of statistical methods.[2],[3]

Scientific misconduct in publication, from plagiarism and fabrication to duplicate publication and questionable authorship practices, is frequently explained by pointing to the pressures generated by the “publish or perish” culture of academia.[4] It could be an outcome of strong ambition to accelerate carrier progresses,[5] for job promotions or to achieve desirable results thus underpinning the core values of empathy and humanism. Occasionally, it could also be due to investigator's laziness, innocent ignorance, or insufficient monitoring that ultimately leads to contamination of literature.[6] Evidence of such practices in the past has been reported in developing countries including Pakistan.[7],[8]

Honesty and integrity are the fundamental virtues expected of medical students and moral practices and competencies are desired to be reflected after academic training. However, studies point to a rise in academic misconduct in medical colleges and educational institutions.[4],[9],[10],[11]

In Pakistan, during the recent past, there has been a mushrooming of medical colleges, both in the public and private sector with more focus on quantity instead of quality of medical students. Although more students are interested in engaging themselves in research activities and subsequent publications, the issue of academic misconduct and student integrity in medical colleges has not been addressed properly.[7] A few studies on occurrence of academic misconduct in medical college fraternity in Pakistan and India have been reported [7],[12],[13] while literature on publication ethics is lacking.[6] Therefore, a closer look at publication practices in upcoming medical graduates is vitally an important part of research ethics.

The objective of the present study was to assess the knowledge of publication ethics among private and public sector medical students during their clinical years.


  Methods Top


A questionnaire-based cross-sectional study was carried from January to June 2015 in four (two public and two private) medical colleges of Karachi, Pakistan. Ethical clearance from the parent institution was taken before initiation of the study. All third, fourth, and fifth (final) year medical students were invited to participate in the study and a total of 600 medical students were included by convenient sampling. The questionnaire was prepared after review of relevant literature [14],[15] and after opinion and feedback taken by experts in medical writing, publication, and research. The questionnaire was pretested on ten medical students. Verbal informed consent was taken before the questionnaire was administrated by each participating medical student. The questionnaire comprised three sections; the first section inquiring demographic data, participant's contribution toward research, and then questions related to perception of publication ethics, ICMJE criteria, and COPE. The third section comprised questions of multiple choice type on knowledge of publications ethics and major scientific misconducts including authorship criteria, submission of article, gift authorship, fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, and photomanipulation. Data were collected and analyzed in SPSS version 16.0 (SPSS Inc, Chicago). Descriptive statistics was used to summarize the data and Chi-square test was used for cross tabulation with sex, type of medical colleges, and knowledge regarding publication ethics.


  Results Top


A total of 592 medical students were included, of these 270 (45.6%) were male and 322 (54.4%) were female participants. [Figure 1] showing distribution of responses from private and government medical colleges. Mean age of the participants was 22.2 ± 1.47 years. Only 78 (13.2%) have published original articles, the majority 491 (79%) had heard about the word “publication ethics” while only 64 (10.8%) and 53 (9%) medical students had heard of “ICMJE authorship criteria” and “COPE,” respectively. The majority of the students (409, 70.8%) were unaware about ethics review committees/boards in their institutions [Table 1].
Figure 1: Distribution of medical colleges

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Table 1: Demographics of medical students, their research contribution, and awareness of publication ethics committees (n=592)

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[Table 2] shows the proportion of participants having correct answer for each question about knowledge of publications' ethics and major scientific misconducts. Knowledge about fabrication of data was found to be statistically significant (P < 0.05) between sex and knowledge of publication ethics and scientific misconduct while the rest of the variables remain statistically nonsignificant. Likewise, statistically significant differences were observed between knowledge of public and private medical students and publication ethics, salami slicing, ghost author, fabrication, and photomanipulation (P < 0.001) and for plagiarism (P < 0.005) [Table 2]. Participants from public medical colleges scored significantly better in all variables than from private medical colleges except knowledge about salami slicing in which participants from latter performed significantly better than public sector students.
Table 2: Cross tabulation of knowledge of publication ethics with sex and type of medical colleges (n=592)

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  Discussion Top


To solve a clinical problem, medical science develops with the pooling of scientific evidences. A well-organized clinical or experimental research is a painstaking process. Nevertheless, the submission of an article for publication is the final stage of long planning, execution of research, tedious analysis, and final preparation of the document one must ensure that at all stages, the data are submitted honestly.[16]

This cross-sectional survey regarding knowledge of scientific misconduct in publication was conducted among medical students of four medical colleges having a fairly balanced participation (45.6% male vs. 54.4% female participants). Among them, only 78 (13.2%) students have published an original research article whereas only 68 (10.6%) students were aware of ICMJE authorship criteria. This is in contrast to a recently published study in which almost all responding participants had the knowledge of formal authorship requirements.[17] Awareness and responsiveness to such guidelines are evident from such technically advanced countries.

Fabrication of data is a recording of fictitious data when none exists and falsification is the manipulation of data or experimental procedures to produce a desired outcome or to avoid a complicating or inexplicable result. A meta-analysis showed that a pooled average of 1.97% admitted to have fabricated, falsified, or modified data or results at least once and up to 33.7% admitted questionable research practices for other colleagues. This figure rose to 14.12% for falsification and up to 72% for questionable research practices.[18] In our study, 97 (16.4%) and 73 (12.3%) students have knowledge of fabrication and falsification, respectively, while significant differences were found between students of public and private medical colleges and male and female students regarding knowledge of fabrication. Males and students from public sector performed better.

Plagiarism is defined as copying ideas, passages of text from someone else, and using them as if they were one's own and not acknowledging it. In the present study, the overall knowledge of plagiarism was found in 65 (11.0%) students while students from public sector performed significantly better than private sector. This finding is consistent with another local study that showed general lack of information regarding plagiarism among medical students and faculty members.[12]

Gift authorship is defined as a person listed as an author who did not make a significant contribution to the research and therefore does not fulfill the ICMJE criteria. On the other hand, a ghost author is a person who is not listed as an author but made a significant contribution to the research. However, recently, writers are not classified as ghosts if they are named in a footnote.[19] Only 106 (17.9%) and 226 (38.2%) of the students gave correct responses for gift and ghost authorship, respectively, in this study. Students from public sector gave significantly higher number of correct responses than students from private sector. Misappropriation of authorship (awarding honorary authorship and concealing ghost authorship) is incompatible with the principles, duties, and ethical responsibilities involved in scientific publication. Literature has reported that approximately 1 in 4 articles demonstrated misapplication of authorship criteria and inappropriate assignment of authorship.[20]

The publication of a single data set into multiple articles is called salami slicing.[21] This awareness was better as overall (415, 70.1%) students have the knowledge of salami slicing and students from private sector performed better than public sector. Such publications are unethical as it wastes the time of reviewers, occupies the valuable space of published scientific data, and such unnecessary overemphasized publication inflates scientific literature with flawed meta-analysis for no benefit other than the author.[22]

One of the limitations of the present study is while knowledge had been evaluated, assessment of self-reported attitudes and behaviors of publication ethics were not explored. It would enable us to reflect practices of medical students at the same time. Second, as only four out of more than ninety medical schools in Pakistan were examined, the extent to which these schools were representative of all schools was not established. Moreover, this study focused on students not faculty, so their knowledge of these concepts was not examined.

Although doctors are considered to be respectful role models of professionalism and ethics, medical students are not strangers to publication misconduct and dishonesty. Academic integrity and publication ethics should be emphasized to the students for becoming professional and honest doctors. Formal training for research that includes publication ethics should be made a part of the curriculum. Reputed biomedical journals should also play their part by publishing special communication section and conduct workshop in publication ethics. A mechanism by international consensus should be adopted for a universal definition of research misconduct. In addition, ethical standards need to be made clearer so that researchers can determine whether their work breaches certain codes.[23] Therefore, it is the ethical responsibility of all reviewers and editors to deal misconducts strictly in the light of available guidelines: WAME, NIH, ICJME, and COPE on research ethics and conduct.[16] Finally, in the light of a popular saying that to conduct ethical and credible research, it is important to realize “it is quality, not quantity that matters.”


  Conclusion Top


The study clearly demonstrates deficiencies in knowledge regarding several aspects of publication ethics among medical students of both public and private medical colleges in Karachi. There is a need to increase the awareness of research and publication ethics among students during their academic years.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 
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    Figures

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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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