Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 1331–1352 | Cite as

Scientists Admitting to Plagiarism: A Meta-analysis of Surveys

  • Vanja Pupovac
  • Daniele FanelliEmail author
Original Paper


We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of anonymous surveys asking scientists whether they ever committed various forms of plagiarism. From May to December 2011 we searched 35 bibliographic databases, five grey literature databases and hand searched nine journals for potentially relevant studies. We included surveys that asked scientists if, in a given recall period, they had committed or knew of a colleague who committed plagiarism, and from each survey extracted the proportion of those who reported at least one case. Studies that focused on academic (i.e. student) plagiarism were excluded. Literature searches returned 12,460 titles from which 17 relevant survey studies were identified. Meta-analysis of studies reporting committed (N = 7) and witnessed (N = 11) plagiarism yielded a pooled estimate of, respectively, 1.7 % (95 % CI 1.2–2.4) and 30 % (95 % CI 17–46). Basic methodological factors, including sample size, year of survey, delivery method and whether survey questions were explicit rather than indirect made a significant difference on survey results. Even after controlling for these methodological factors, between-study differences in admission rates were significantly above those expected by sampling error alone and remained largely unexplained. Despite several limitations of the data and of this meta-analysis, we draw three robust conclusions: (1) The rate at which scientists report knowing a colleague who committed plagiarism is higher than for data fabrication and falsification; (2) The rate at which scientists report knowing a colleague who committed plagiarism is correlated to that of fabrication and falsification; (3) The rate at which scientists admit having committed either form of misconduct (i.e. fabrication, falsification and plagiarism) in surveys has declined over time.


Plagiarism Research misconduct Research integrity Data fabrication Data falsification Survey methodology 



We thank Mladen Petrovečki for scientific guidance, Lidija Bilić-Zulle, Ksenija Baždarić and Martina Mavrinac for helpful discussions, Fatime Havin Kaya for assistance with the translation from Turkish, and Dora Karmelić for assistance with the collection of data. Author contributions: designed research: DF and VP; collected data: VP; analyzed data: DF; wrote the paper: DF and VP. The study is a part of two scientific projects: “Scientific plagiarism, its prevalence and features” (No. and “Knowledge about research integrity at University of Rijeka” (No. 3 %-12-33) both supported by the University of Rijeka.

Supplementary material

11948_2014_9600_MOESM1_ESM.doc (160 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 160 kb)
11948_2014_9600_MOESM2_ESM.doc (156 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 154 kb)


  1. Allen, G. N., Ball, N. L., & Smith, H. J. (2011). Information systems research behaviors: What are the normative standards? MIS Quarterly, 35(3), 533–551.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, M. S., & Steneck, N. H. (2011). The problem of plagiarism. Urologic Oncology, 29(1), 90–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antes, A. L., Murphy, S. T., Waples, E. P., Mumford, M. D., Brown, R. P., Connelly, S., et al. (2009). A meta-analysis of ethics instruction effectiveness in the sciences. Ethics and Behavior, 19(5), 379–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baždarić, K. (2012). Plagiarism detection-quality management tool for all scientific journals. Croatian Medical Journal, 53(1), 1–3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baždarić, K., Bilić-Zulle, L., Brumini, G., & Petrovečki, M. (2012). Prevalence of plagiarism in recent submissions to the Croatian medical journal. Science and Engineering Ethics, 18(2), 223–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bebeau, M. J., & Davis, E. L. (1996). Survey of ethical issues in dental research. Journal of Dental Research, 75(2), 845–855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bedeian, A., Taylor, S., & Miller, A. (2010). Management science on the credibility bubble: Cardinal sins and various misdemeanors. The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 9, 715–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Biagioli, M. (2012). Recycling texts or stealing time? Plagiarism, authorship, and credit in science. International Journal of Cultural Property, 19, 453–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Borkowski, S., & Welsh, M. (2000). Ethical practice in the accounting publishing process: Contrasting opinions of authors and editors. Journal of Business Ethics, 25, 15–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bosch, X., Hernandez, C., Pericas, J. M., Doti, P., & Marusic, A. (2012). Misconduct policies in high-impact biomedical journals. PLoS ONE, 7(12), e51928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bouville, M. (2008). Plagiarism: Words and ideas. Science and Engineering Ethics, 14(3), 311–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burgess, G. L., & Mullen, D. (2002). Observations of ethical misconduct among industrial hygienists in England. AIHA Journal, 63(2), 151–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Butler, D. (2010). Journals step up plagiarism policing. Nature, 466(7303), 167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cossette, P. (2004). Research integrity: An exploratory survey of administrative science faculties. Journal of Business Ethics, 49(3), 213–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dhingra, D., & Mishra, D. (2014). Public misconduct among medical professionals in India. Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, 11(2), 104–107.Google Scholar
  16. Dotterweich, D., & Garrison, S. (1998). Research ethics of business academic researchers at AACSB institutions. Teaching Business Ethics, 1(4), 431–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eastwood, S., Derish, P., Leash, E., & Ordway, S. (1996). Ethical issues in biomedical research: Perceptions and practices of postdoctoral research fellows responding to a survey. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2(1), 89–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Errami, M., Hicks, J., Fisher, W., Trusty, D., Wren, J., Long, T. C., et al. (2008). Deja vu a study of duplicate citations in medline. Bioinformatics, 24(2), 243–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Errami, M., Sun, Z., Long, T. C., George, A. C., and Garner, H. R. (2009). Déjà vu: A database of highly similar citations in the scientific literature. Nucleic Acids Research, 37(Database issue), D921-4.Google Scholar
  20. Fanelli, D. (2009). How many scientists fabricate and falsify research? A systematic review and meta-analysis of survey data. PLoS ONE, 4(5), e5738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fanelli, D. (2010). “Positive” results increase down the Hierarchy of the Sciences. PLoS ONE, 5, e10068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fanelli, D. (2013). Why growing retractions are (mostly) a good sign. PLoS Medicine, 10(12), e1001563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fanelli, D., & Glänzel, W. (2013). Bibliometric evidence for a hierarchy of the sciences. PLoS ONE, 8(6), e66938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fanelli, D., & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2013). US studies may overestimate effect sizes in softer research. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(37), 15031–15036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fang, F. C., Steen, R. G., & Casadevall, A. (2012). Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications. PNAS, 109(42), 17028–17033.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fisher, R. J. (1993). Social desirability bias and the validity of indirect questioning. Journal of Consumer Research, 20(2), 303–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Geggie, D. (2001). A survey of newly appointed consultants’ attitudes towards research fraud. Journal of Medical Ethics, 27(5), 344–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Giles, J. (2005). Taking on the cheats. Nature, 435, 258–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Godecharle, S., Nemery, B., & Dierickx, K. (2013). Guidance on research integrity: No union in Europe. Lancet, 381, 1097–1098.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Greenberg, M., & Goldberg, L. (1994). Ethical challenges to risk scientists: An exploratory analysis of survey data. Science, Technology and Human Values, 19(2), 223–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Honig, B., & Bedi, A. (2012). The fox in the hen house: A critical examination of plagiarism among members of the academy of management. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11(1), 101–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Horrom, T. A. (2012). Response to Horrom TA. The perils of copy and paste: Plagiarism in scientific publishing. Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 49(8), vii–xii.Google Scholar
  33. Ioannidis, J. P. (2008). Interpretation of tests of heterogeneity and bias in meta-analysis. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 14(5), 951–957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. John, L., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2012). Measuring the prevalence of questionable research practices with incentives for truth telling. Psychological Science, 23(5), 524–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kalichman, M. W., & Friedman, P. J. (1992). A pilot-study of biomedical trainees perceptions concerning research ethics. Academic Medicine, 67(11), 769–775.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kattenbraker, M. S. (2007). Health education research and publication: Ethical considerations and the response of health educators. PhD thesis, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois, United States.Google Scholar
  37. Kleikamp, E. (2013). CrossCheck-EES integration go-live date announced. Accessed 9 July 2014.
  38. Koklu, N. (2003). Views of academicians on research ethics. Journal of Educational Sciences & Practices, 2(4), 138–151.Google Scholar
  39. Lipsey, M. W., & Wilson, D. B. (2000). Practical Meta-Analysis. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  40. Macaskill, P., Walter, S. D., & Irwig, L. (2001). A comparison of methods to detect publication bias in meta-analysis. Statistics in Medicine, 20(4), 641–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martin, B. R. (2013). Whither research integrity? Plagiarism, self-plagiarism and coercive citation in an age of research assessment. Research Policy, 42(5), 1005–1014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Martinson, B. C., Anderson, M. S., Crain, A. L., & Vries, R. D. (2006). Scientists’ perceptions of organizational justice and self-reported misbehaviors. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics: An International Journal, 1(1), 51–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Martinson, B. C., Anderson, M. S., & De Vries, R. (2005). Scientists behaving badly. Nature, 435(7043), 737–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Martinson, B. C., Crain, A. L., De Vries, R., & Anderson, M. S. (2010). The importance of organizational justice in ensuring research integrity. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 5(3), 67–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Marušić, A., Bošnjak, L., & Jerončić, A. (2011). A systematic review of research on the meaning, ethics and practices of authorship across scholarly disciplines. PLoS ONE, 6(9), e23477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. May, C., Campbell, S., & Doyle, H. (1998). research misconduct: A pilot study of British addiction researchers. Addiction Research & Theory, 6(4), 371–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Nilstun, T., Löfmark, R., & Lundqvist, A. (2010). Scientific dishonesty—questionnaire to doctoral students in Sweden. Journal of Medical Ethics, 36(5), 315–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. NSF. (2013). Semiannual Report to the Congress. Accessed 14 April 2014.
  49. Okonta, P., & Rossouw, T. (2013). Prevalence of scientific misconduct among a group of researchers in nigeria. Developing World Bioethics, 13(3), 149–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. ORI. (1994). Policy on plagiarism. ORI Newsletter, 3(1). Accessed 8 Augest 2014.
  51. ORI. (2000–2011). The office of research integrity annual report. Accessed 14 March 2014.
  52. Plagiarism pinioned. (2010). Nature, 466(7303): 159–160.Google Scholar
  53. Randall, D., & Fernandes, M. (1991). The social desirability response bias in ethics research. Journal of Business Ethics, 10(11), 805–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Reich, E. (2010). Self-plagiarism case prompts calls for agencies to tighten rules. Nature, 468, 745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Resnik, D. (1998). The ethics of science. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  56. Resnik, D., & Master, Z. (2013). Policies and initiatives aimed at addressing research misconduct in high-income countries. PLoS Medicine, 10(3), e1001406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Resnik, D. B., & Zeng, W. (2010). Research integrity in China: Problems and prospects. Developing World Bioethics, 10(3), 164–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Steneck, N. H. (1994). Research universities and scientific misocnduct. Journal of Higher Education, 65(3), 310–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Supak-Smolcic, V., & Simundic, A. M. (2013). Biochemia medica has started using the crosscheck plagiarism detection software powered by iThenticate. Biochemia Medica, 23(2), 139–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Swazey, J., Anderson, M., & Louis, K. (1993). Ethical problems in academic research. American Scientist, 81, 542–553.Google Scholar
  61. Tangney, J. P. (1987). Fraud will out-or will it? New Scientist, 115(1572), 62–63.Google Scholar
  62. Terrin, N., Schmid, C. H., Lau, J., & Olkin, I. (2003). Adjusting for publication bias in the presence of heterogeneity. Statistics in Medicine, 22, 2113–2126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Titus, S. L., Wells, J. A., & Rhoades, L. J. (2008). Repairing research integrity. Nature, 453(7198), 980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. U.S. Federal Research Misconduct Policy. (2000) Accessed 12 May 2014.
  65. Viechtbauer, W. (2010). Conducting meta-analyses in R with the metafor package. Journal of Statistical Software, 36(3), 1–48.Google Scholar
  66. Wager, E. (2011). How should editors respond to plagiarism? COPE discussion paper. Accessed 12 June 2014.
  67. Wager, E., Fiack, S., Graf, C., Robinson, A., & Rowlands, I. (2009). Science journal editors’ views on publication ethics: Results of an international survey. Journal of Medical Ethics, 35, 348–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Zhang, Y. H., & Jia, X. (2012). A survey on the use of CrossCheck for detecting plagiarism in journal articles. Journal of Zhejiang University-SCIENCE (A/B/C) PR China, 25(4), 292–307.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical informatics, School of MedicineUniversity of RijekaRijekaCroatia
  2. 2.EBSI - École de Bibliothéconomie et des Sciences de l’informationUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations