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MSU professor admits to plagiarism in 2008 article

April 6, 2010

A year-long investigation by a university committee has led an MSU researcher and Academic Governance representative to retract an article published in 2008 because she plagiarized, MSU officials said Tuesday.

Mariam Sticklen, a crop and soil sciences professor, has repudiated an article on the engineering of plant genetics for biofuel production because a paragraph in the article was paraphrased from another article she was peer-reviewing without attributing it.

An investigatory committee reviewing Sticklen’s case found she plagiarized from an article that appeared in the February 2010 issue of Plant Science.

The article had not been published at the time Sticklen plagiarized it.

A retraction, written by Sticklen, was printed in the April edition of Nature Reviews Genetics, the scholarly publication where Sticklen’s article appeared.

In the retraction, Sticklen admits paraphrasing from the Plant Science article without attributing it.

Sticklen is an at-large member of the Executive Committee of Academic Council, which meets with MSU administrators for information and discussion on university policy.

As an at-large member, Sticklen was elected by faculty across the university. Her term on that committee expires in 2011.

“I regret this error and wish to apologize to the authors of the Plant Science article,” Sticklen said in the retraction.

Sticklen could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

J. Ian Gray, MSU’s vice president for research and graduate studies, said the matter first arose after one of the publications contacted the other regarding potential plagiarism.

Gray did not specify which publication contacted the other.

The publications then contacted the university, he said, which investigated the matter and found Sticklen had plagiarized. Disciplinary action was taken, although Gray declined to elaborate.

Gray said it has been about a year since the matter first arose, and took until now because of the length of the investigation process.

“These are unfortunate circumstances,” Gray said.

“My personal feeling is this has been done and let’s let it rest.”

James Pivarnik, MSU’s research integrity officer, said there are numerous steps that must be taken after allegations of misconduct arise.

He said plagiarism accounts for about 40 percent of student and faculty research misconduct cases at the university.

The process begins with an allegation, which then is preliminarily assessed by Pivarnik’s office to determine whether the allegation meets the university’s definition of academic misconduct and if there is credible evidence behind the allegation.

An inquiry committee, made up of at least three faculty members who are knowledgeable in the particular research field of a case, repeats the assessment. If that committee decides an investigation is warranted, an investigatory committee is formed.

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The investigatory committee also is comprised of three knowledgeable faculty, who then create a report to say whether misconduct occurred, Pivarnik said.

That report then is made available to several administrators, including Gray.

“(Plagiarism) happens at research institutions,” Gray said.

“It’s very easy to fall into traps.”

Gray said the university takes preventative measures — particularly with younger faculty and graduate assistants — in the form of education and training programs to help avoid plagiarism.

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