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Academic Publishing: How It Works and Why

An introduction to the industry of academic publishing, how it came to be, and how it works now.

Research Misconduct

Research misconduct includes the following concepts:

  • Fabrication of data (making up data)
  • Falsification of data (manipulating data, materials, or equipment)
  • Plagiarism (copying someone else's work)
The Code of Federal Regulations states that "a finding of research misconduct" by the National Science Foundation requires the following:
  1. There be a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community; and
  2. The research misconduct be committed intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly; and
  3. The allegation be proven by a preponderance of evidence.
    (45 CFR § 689, 2012, p. 243)
However, not every mistake or disagreement counts as misconduct:
  • Honest error
  • Difference of opinion


The consequences for a finding of misconduct can come from the funder as well as the journal editor. Some journals may require running your article through a plagiarism screen prior to submission. Be sure to read through a journal's malpractice process before submitting a journal article, so you know what's expected of you and what you can expect from the publisher.

Federal Watchdogs

Federal agencies that fund research pay very close attention to where that funding is going. Different agencies have different means of doing so. All federal agencies have an Office of the Inspector General; among its other tasks, the OIG of the National Science Foundation tracks use and misuse of agency funding. While the Department of Health and Human Services also has an OIG, the vast scope of programs overseen by the HHS led to the creation of the Office of Research Integrity to focus specifically on the research funded by HHS grants.

For an example of the work done by these offices to track how funding is used, the March 2015 report from the NSF OIG reads, in part:

"We analyzed over 8,000 proposals awarded by NSF in FY 2011 for evidence of plagiarism, and investigated those which appeared serious. We opened 34 plagiarism investigations, ten of which have resulted in NSF making findings of research misconduct. So far, we have recovered $357,602 in federal funds from these investigations." (p. 5)

Retraction Watch

While there are federal agencies that track federal funding, there is as yet no official watchdog of the results of misconduct, specifically misconduct that leads to a paper being retracted and taken out of the public record. The internet has made it easier to track retractions on a large scale, and since 2010 the blog Retraction Watch has tracked retractions as they find them. The blog, led by two science journalists, takes a journalistic approach to the issue, and they record instances of retractions and provide further information on the subject from the journal editors and paper authors when possible. Their observation of an otherwise amorphous business has made it possible to observe patterns in retractions, and get a better sense of how often papers are pulled.