Academic fraud: A question of morals, integrity

I agree with Mr Heng Cho Choon that academic fraud is serious enough to justify monetary punishment of universities (Take punitive measures against academic fraud; Nov 15).

Such cases beg the question of what our schools and institutions are doing in terms of the moral education of our young people. Or is it a case where, in the relentless pursuit for academic excellence, we have forgotten about distinguishing between right and wrong?

Some individuals may score high academically, but fail on personal integrity.

Some fraudulent cases were uncovered when other researchers failed to replicate the same results; but overall, it seems that many others may have escaped detection. The analogy of the tip of the iceberg may be apt.

We cannot depend on the integrity of every researcher to conscientiously stick to the tedious methods of science to gather data for analysis without bias. There will always be a few black sheep.

And it is not just the researcher's or his institution's reputation that is at stake; such fraudulent science could have far-reaching repercussions in the wider non-scientific community as well.

One well-known case is a paper in 1998 that alleged that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was the cause of autism. Because of that paper, many people stopped going for the vaccine, which resulted in cases of people catching the diseases and even dying.

One possible preventive measure is to have students or researchers who are submitting their papers to take elaborate psychological tests carried out by qualified psychologists to test for any inclination towards fraudulent behaviour and for moral integrity, annually.

Universities could also adopt more rigorous interviewing methods, such as the one used by Nasa to pick its astronauts.

Lee Kay Yan (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2017, with the headline 'Academic fraud: A question of morals, integrity'. Print Edition | Subscribe