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Good practices

Corrective mechanisms

BoasPraticas ilustraDaniel BuenoThere has been an increase in the number of cases of scientific misconduct detected in Brazil in recent years, suggests an article published in the journal Science and Engineering Ethics by researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The study analyzed more than 2,000 of the papers indexed in the Brazilian virtual library known as SciELO (Scientific Electronic Library On Line), as well as in the Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature (LILACS) database between 2009 and 2014. They identified 31 articles that had been retracted, i.e., their publication had been canceled owing to fraud or serious errors. Of the total, 25 were by Brazilian authors.

Plagiarism was the principal reason for retraction of the Brazilian articles, accounting for 46% of the cases. The study shows that retractions are on the rise in both databases: between 2004 and 2009, one or two retractions were identified per year, but between 2011 and 2012, the average rose to seven. According to Renan Moritz Almeida, a UFRJ professor and principal author of the research, one theory that helps explain the increase in the cases of plagiarism detected in Brazil is the introduction of software that, by scanning more than one text, can map the repetition of sections so that instances where the author was not credited can be noted.

In recent years, universities, research institutions and publishers of scientific works are using programs like this one to curb abuses. “Today, more attention is being given to this situation, especially by publishers,” says Almeida, who acknowledges that the number of cases is still small. “However, it is interesting to observe that the first retraction among journals listed in the SciELO occurred in 2008, less than ten years ago.” Sonia Vasconcelos, co-author of the study, calls attention to the fact that the results suggest a greater participation by scientific periodicals indexed in less traditional databases during the process of correction of the literature. “Such participation reflects to some extent a greater publisher commitment to taking corrective actions that in the long run can have a positive impact on publication quality,” she says.

Vasconcelos explains that in recent years, Brazil has taken the lead in this research and in educational initiatives in ethics in research in Latin America. She cites some experiences in promoting scientific integrity in Brazil, such as the Código de boas práticas científicas [Code of Good Scientific Practices] developed and introduced by FAPESP in 2011. It furnishes ethical guidelines for the professional activities of researchers who receive grants and other assistance from the Foundation. The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Brazilian Academy of Science (ABC) have also established their own standards of conduct.