Illinois chancellor who fired Salaita accused of serial self-plagiarism

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise faces allegations of unethical behavior dating back two decades. (Ronald Woan/Flickr)

Chancellor Phyllis Wise, the top administrator who fired Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after complaints from pro-Israel donors, is facing allegations from academic peers of unethical conduct that may stretch back two decades.

Evidence has emerged of several instances of duplicate publishing – a widely condemned form of unethical behavior sometimes called “self-plagiarism.”

It occurs when an author publishes the same research or the same or substantially similar paper in multiple venues without acknowledging the fact, in effect passing off the old research as something new.

Duplicate publishing is considered especially damaging in the medical sciences: the same results for a drug study published multiple times in different journals can give the false impression of numerous independent studies showing that the drug is effective.

Because of the risk that duplicate publishing may “double up creating faulty data,” the group Publishing Integrity and Ethics says retraction is often appropriate in cases of duplicate publishing.

Wise has already publicly acknowledged one case and The Electronic Intifada has requested comment from her regarding the other allegations reported in this post. No response has been received from Wise or the University of Illinois.

In one instance, research for which Wise was not the lead investigator was apparently republished in another journal with her as the lead author and the names of some co-authors removed.

As The Electronic Intifada has previously reported, there is already reasonable suspicion that Wise may have unlawfully disposed of public documents that could shed light on pro-Israel donor influence over her decision to fire Salaita.

The “missing” document and contradictory statements on the Salaita case by the university’s president Robert Easter have fed widespread doubts about the university administration’s honesty and transparency.

The allegations of unethical academic behavior will cast further doubt on the integrity of Wise’s statements regarding Salaita and are likely to increase the pressure on the beleageured chancellor.

More than a dozen university departments have already passed votes of no confidence in Wise over her handling of the Salaita appointment.

Wise “corrects serious errors”

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Friday that Wise has made “a significant correction to a paper, published in 2006, that presents non-original work as original.”

This fact was first reported by the website Retraction Watch.

The Chronicle explains:

According to a correction in the journal Neuroscience, Ms. Wise’s paper contained “a number of serious errors” and was “written in a way that misleads the readers to think that it is an original article.” The article, “Estrogen Therapy: Does It Help or Hurt the Adult and Aging Brain? Insights Derived From Animal Models,” is a review of a 2001 article co-written by Ms. Wise. But the previous article receives no attribution.

Several of Wise’s questionable articles involve studies on the effectiveness of the hormone therapy estradiol, which is sold under various brand names.

One analysis of ethical issues in scientific publishing states that the “unethical” practice of duplicate publishing “is done to increase the number of publications” an author can list on her CV and is “more common with the pharmaceutical industry.”

Wise told Retraction Watch “she agrees with the correction” to her 2006 paper and that “there are no plans to correct any other papers.”

But she may have to revise that position based on additional allegations that are surfacing.

More cases emerging

A September posting on the website PubPeer appears to have uncovered another egregious case dating back twenty years.

PubPeer describes itself as an “online community” that reviews scientific research after its publication.

It says it is maintained by a “diverse team of early-stage scientists in collaboration with programmers who have collectively decided to remain anonymous in order to avoid personalizing the website, and to avoid circumstances in which involvement with the site might produce negative effects on their scientific careers.” 

This allegation concerns the 1994 paper “Changing diurnal and pulsatile rhythms during aging” (by Phyllis M. Wise, Nancy G. Weiland, Kathryn Scarbrough, Jonathan M. Lloyd) in Neurobiology of Aging, which PubPeer notes is a duplicate of another paper published the same year in the journal Experimental Gerontology.

“Neither paper cites the other and they have different coauthors, although they share the same first author. One claims to be the Nathan Shock Memorial Lecture delivered by the first author in 1991, while the other does not,” PubPeer states.

But then, the post notes, “Upon further examination, both papers are taken almost verbatim from an earlier publication,” a 1990 paper titled “Contribution of Changing Rhythmicity of Hypothalamic Neurotransmitter Function to Female Reproductive Aging” in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

PubPeer states: “Again, this paper has different coauthors and the same first author. Ninety-nine percent of the text of both later papers appeared previously in this paper, which is cited in neither.”

It also notes that the same figures have appeared, but with slightly different labeling.

“Is such triplicate publication with errors remotely acceptable in this area of science?” the post asks.

Another case noted on PubPeer concerns a paper co-authored by Wise and first published in the Journal of Neurocytology in 2000.

The PubPeer posting alleges that this is a duplicate publication of data that had already appeared in a 1999 article in Neuroscience.

In the 1999 publication, Wise is not the lead author, but she has been promoted to lead author in the later version.

Diagrams from both articles then appear “without permission” or attribution in a third article published in 2000 in Biology of Reproduction.

Federal grants

Both the Neuroscience and Biology of Reproduction articles say that they were supported by grants from the Glenn Foundation and from the US government’s National Institutes of Health (NIH). They both list one NIH grant number in common.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the NIH, recently published a paper on its website on “unethical publishing behavior,” which includes precisely the kind of duplicate publishing in which Wise is accused of habitually engaging.

The paper states that “studies have suggested that retractions for plagiarism and duplicate publication have been increasing in recent years.”

Accountability

Given that Wise has repeatedly cited her paramount concern for the integrity of the University of Illinois in her decision to fire Salaita, she owes the citizens of Illinois and the university community an immediate, full and frank response to these allegations.

Her institution’s and discipline’s ethical bodies should immediately examine her full record of publications to determine whether these allegations are substantiated and whether there is more evidence of misconduct.

Many of those commenting on the PubPeer and Retraction Watch postings have noted that a student would be subject to severe sanctions, if not expulsion, for these kinds of offenses.

Separately, The Electronic Intifada is still awaiting a response from the office of the Illinois Attorney General to its request for a review of the University of Illinois’ claim that a document on Salaita handed to Wise by a pro-Israel donor cannot be located.

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Comments

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One particularly damning fact is that when she reused pictures and illustrations from the previous publications, she labeled them as "source unknown". She knew republishing was wrong and she took deliberate steps to conceal it

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Yes Rubana, the woman has no integrity and no conscience, exactly the type of person the Zionists put in place to do their dirty work.

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This is just further evidence of her unsuitability to head a university in the United States. She lacks the required honesty and ethical components of character to be the leader of an academic institution.

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Who will educate the educators? Hats off to Ali Abunimah for doing the research that the University of Illinois evidently didn't do when appointing her. Serial self-plagiarism is a curse. If it emerges that she is also the beneficiary of grants from pharmaceutical companies involved--was there any declaration of a FCOI (Financial Conflict of Interest) in the essays, as is increasingly the practice in scholarly publication?--then the story gets exponentially bigger.

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What's the big deal? Recording Artists do this all the time. They call it "Remastered Box Sets."

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if the university wants to preserve its credibility and reputation, it should fire this chancellor, for repeated lies in her research.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.