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Repeat of plagiarism shocks professor

Debra Erdley
| Monday, Nov. 7, 2011

Duquesne University occupational therapy professor Pat Crist was stunned to learn a former colleague who was reprimanded for plagiarizing her work 16 years ago landed at the University of Pittsburgh, where a federal agency recently sanctioned him for the same offense.

Crist said Scott J.M. Weber, an assistant nursing professor who left Pitt this summer when the plagiarism accusation surfaced, appropriated an article she published in a professional journal and submitted it under his name to the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association in 1995, shortly after he left Duquesne.

Academics long have considered plagiarism -- stealing the words or ideas of another -- one of the most serious professional offenses. With the availability of Internet searches and databases dedicated to authenticating scholarly work, it is easier than ever to screen for plagiarism.

"I would have thought (Weber) had learned his lesson long ago. I just don't think that type of behavior should be tolerated," Crist said.

Sarah Brazeal, spokeswoman for the Health Information Management Association's journal, confirmed Crist's account and said the journal apologized to her publisher after it "took swift action against the author."

Reached at his home, Weber, 55, of Shaler, who listed the association article in his online Pitt biographical sketch, insisted he never heard from the publisher.

"I don't what you're talking about. I don't know anything about that," Weber said.

Weber was sanctioned last month after admitting to lifting the work of others and falsifying and fabricating data in journal articles about what he purported to be original research, according to the Office of Research Integrity in the Department of Health and Human Services.

John Wiley & Sons Inc. retracted seven articles Weber published in its journals since 2007 because of concerns about the originality of the materials and authenticity of references.

Adam Marcus, editor of Anesthesiology News and co-founder of Retraction Watch, a blog that follows retraction notices, said the column tracked more than 330 retraction notices from scholarly journals between August 2010 and October.

"There is definitely an increase in identified cases of (academic) misconduct," said Robert Creutz, general manager of iThenticate, which offers the CrossCheck database. "The Internet has provided people improved access to scholarly literature. More eyes means a greater likelihood that unethical or even poor research will be brought to light."

Marcus noted that honest errors or questions, and not plagiarism, trigger some retractions.

"The Scott Weber case was remarkable not only for the extent of the plagiarism, but also for the scope," he said.

Pitt would not discuss Weber's departure. Pitt officials referred the issue to the Office of Research Integrity. Authorities said Weber, who consented to be barred from participation in federal projects for three years, also plagiarized significant portions of two grant applications filed with the National Institutes of Health.

It's unclear whether Pitt officials knew Weber's history when they hired him as an assistant professor in the nursing school. Weber holds master's and doctoral degrees in educational psychology from Boston University and a master's in nursing from the University of Wisconsin. His resume did not list his time spent at Duquesne University as assistant professor and assistant chairman of its Department of Health Management Systems in the mid-1990s.

In most universities, plagiarism is cause for sanctions up to dismissal of tenured faculty, said attorney Barbara Lee, a professor of human resources at Rutgers University and expert on higher education law.

Lee said universities typically know who they're hiring but rely on journals' peer reviews rather than independently checking published works.

"We do reference checks. We ask what their teaching is like, if they're a good colleague. I'd be surprised if they take every single paper and run it through plagiarism software anywhere," Lee said. "We are trusting of the system, which works fine 99 percent of the time."

Additional Information:

She wrote/he wrote

Excerpt from Pat Crist's January 1994 article:

'Responses to the high costs of education, coupled with the extremely high demand for occupational therapists, have produced a financial opportunity for students and a recruitment strategy for employers that is referred to as the preemployment agreement. Employers are increasingly more willing to invest up front in future practitioners to ensure that clinical positions are filled and service provision available. Preemployment agreements have become a means for students to complete training that might have been financially impossible otherwise.'

Excerpt from Scott J.M. Weber's September 1995 article:

'Responses to the high cost of education, coupled with the high demand for health information management professionals, have produced a financial opportunity for students and a recruitment strategy for employers that is referred to as a preemployment agreement. Employers are increasingly more willing to invest upfront in future practitioners to ensure that administrative positions are filled and service is provided. Preemployment agreements in HIM are becoming a means for students to complete training that might otherwise be financially impossible.'

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