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Ex-Pitt professor given sanctions for plagiarism

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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011
 

A journal editor's suspicion of plagiarism, verified through a database of scholarly articles, triggered a string of events that culminated in sanctions on Wednesday against a former assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.

Scott J.M. Weber of Shaler, who joined the nursing school faculty in 2003, admitted to lifting the work of others and falsifying and fabricating data in journal articles about what he purported to be original research, according to a statement from the Office of Research Integrity in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The office said he agreed to exclude himself from work with federal agencies for the next three years. Reached by phone yesterday, Weber did not dispute any of the findings.

Pitt spokeswoman Jennifer Yates said Weber, who listed himself as coordinator of graduate education at the nursing school, is no longer with the university. Pennsylvania Department of State records show Weber has an active nursing license with no history of disciplinary actions. It is unclear whether he continues to work as a nurse or educator.

Cases like Weber's are uncommon; the Office of Research Integrity issues rulings in fewer than a dozen such cases a year.

"I'm a little surprised that someone would think they could get away with it with all the tools out there," said Shawn Kennedy, editor of the American Journal of Nursing, which did not publish any of the work at issue.

She said this is the first case that has come to her attention involving plagiarism in a nursing journal.

The investigation followed a trade publisher's move to retract seven peer-reviewed articles by Weber dating back to 2009 because of questions about "significant overlaps with previously published material."

Susan Spilka, vice president of corporate communications for John Wiley & Sons Inc., said the company that publishes the Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and Perspectives in Psychiatric Care began vetting Weber's work closely after the editor in chief noticed something "that looked suspicious" in one of Weber's articles this year.

Although the article cleared the peer review process, the editor decided to run the article through the Cross Check database, a compendium of previously published research. When the check verified her suspicions, the editors checked Weber's other articles.

"The machine caught it. The system worked," Spilka said.

Ultimately, the publisher issued retraction notices on seven articles that ran in the three magazines and halted publication of several other articles.

"The journal publishing manager told me she couldn't recall any other instance like it," Spilka said.

Officials from the publishing house notified Pitt of its findings last summer, she said.

The Office of Research Integrity said Weber took 90 percent of the text of one article and 66 percent of the text from another article and incorporated them into his work. Authorities said he also plagiarized significant portions of two grant applications filed with the National Institutes of Health.

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