A UCLA professor has been found to have plagiarized a previously published academic article in a submission she sent to a scientific journal.
Dr. Doina Panaite resigned in February, before a committee with the School of Dentistry ruled in April that she was responsible for copying significant portions of another’s work for an article submitted to the Journal of the California Dental Association.
The journal, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific publication focused on the professional sphere of dentistry, pulled the article from its November edition after allegations of plagiarism surfaced.
Panaite was listed as an author along with Dr. Perry Klokkevold and one additional author, Allan Charles, who is not affiliated with UCLA, on a submission reviewing a dental procedure.
Panaite declined multiple interview requests and said she preferred to submit a statement through her lawyer and maintain e-mail communication.
The article in question copies sizable sections of text from seven of the 10 pages in the original article, including entire paragraphs and subheadings. Panaite’s article includes some original and cited material but has sections of copied text on 11 of its 14 pages.
The article that was plagiarized from was published in the Journal of Periodontology by authors A.R. Pradeep and B.V. Karthikeyan. Both were unable to be reached.
Though Panaite is no longer at UCLA, she is still involved in discussions with the vice chancellor of research, Roberto Peccei, so that they can reach a resolution and close the case.
Failure to reach a conclusion as of the time of interview is mostly due to the lengthy procedure Peccei must follow in cases of research misconduct.
The plagiarized article: a chronology
Plagiarism, according to UCLA policy on research misconduct, is “the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results or words, without giving appropriate credit.”
The policy also states that in order for the allegation to hold true, the plagiarism must be, “intentional, knowing or in reckless disregard of the facts.”
All of the parties involved say they were unaware of any plagiarism or improper citing at the time the article was submitted.
According to Kerry Carney, the editor in chief of the Journal of California Dental Association, readers and other peers from the dentistry community informed her the article was significantly plagiarized soon after it was published in November.
They pointed out that entire paragraphs from an article published two years earlier were used verbatim without citations.
As with all submissions for this journal, articles are peer-reviewed. “Reviewers are chosen from a list of subject matter experts recommended to CDA by the deans of the California dental schools.” Carney said.
It is common practice to have peer-reviewed evaluations as the only editing process before a paper is published.
After the allegations of plagiarism surfaced, Carney immediately reviewed the situation and made the executive decision to pull the article from the journal’s online archive. She also began work on a formal retraction to be published in the next issue, acknowledging the article’s faulty citations.
Carney contacted the authors and No-Hee Park, the dean of the School of Dentistry, to notify all parties about the planned retraction, as well as to notify Park of the allegations.
Almost simultaneously, a faculty member approached Park to notify him of the finding. Park forwarded the faculty member to Peccei because cases of scientific dishonesty are formally handled out of his office.
In following his usual protocol, Peccei formed an investigation committee to review all aspects of the incident, produce a formal report detailing their findings, and forward it to him upon its completion.
In April, after Panaite’s resignation, the committee found Panaite guilty of committing plagiarism. Panaite denies any intentional motives to plagiarize and said in a statement that the alleged plagiarism was caused by a technical error.
In her statement, Panaite said her first citation, in which she cited the previously published article, was accidentally deleted. She said that as a result, EndNote, a database software program created to facilitate reference and citations, automatically converted the second reference to the first, the third to the second and so forth. Panaite said that gave her the impression that the reference was still there, when in fact it wasn’t and it was merely deleted and replaced by a new reference numbered in its place.
Dave Kochalko, vice president of business strategy and development at EndNote said, “A citation will remain with the given reference in the paper. EndNote allows for automatic reformatting and renumbering according to the bibliographic style, however, changing of the actual citation would have to be done manually.”
“All writers bear the obligation of identifying any/all material requiring citation. Therefore, all material taken from another source should be properly quoted and cited, whether the writer is using a word processor or augmenting with EndNote,” Kochalko added.
Panaite’s co-author, Klokkevold, said after the allegations surfaced and he was notified, he decided not to “ask questions.”
“(When) my chairman brought it to my attention, I was initially shocked ““ speechless. What can you say? This was the last thing I suspected,” he said.
He added that he decided to wait for a formal inquiry: “Right or wrong, I elected not to start asking questions because there would be a formal investigation. So I decided right there and then not to say anything.”
Peccei said he could not reveal the identities of the investigating committee members he appointed because of personnel privacy protections. He confirmed that the investigating committee is comprised of two individuals from the School of Dentistry and one individual outside the school.
Peccei said that it is his “standard operating procedure” to appoint two-thirds of the committee from the same school and the possibility that individuals who had previously worked with the authors involved could serve on the committee would not present a conflict of interest.
“I never felt that appointing people on the investigating committee (from the same school) was a drawback,” he said.
“In truth I have done that throughout my 10 years of doing this, and I’ve never had qualms about whether it was or wasn’t better to have people closer to the subject matter than picking people that are completely outside. … Maybe I should be more careful, but I’ve always been more optimistic about human nature,” Peccei added.
Peccei admitted that technical expertise was not required for this particular case, since the grounds for plagiarism were seemingly obvious. However, he said his desire to follow the same pattern was of the norm.
As the UCLA committee was in the process of seeking a resolution, Panaite issued a formal resignation letter on Jan. 15.
With Panaite no longer affiliated with UCLA, it has become a longer process than usual to determine what, if any, consequences the university could administer.
The continuing case
When Panaite’s case came to light, peers were surprised by the allegations and alarmed by the evidence.
“I couldn’t believe it; its just not something you would ever think could happen,” recalled Carney, who said she was shocked by the allegations.
Panaite, in her statement, acknowledged “similarities” to the previous article but called the entire plagiarism incident an unintentional error.
“Unfortunately, by mistake, I deleted and therefore failed to properly cite general knowledge as written by the two authors whose original article was a written commentary,” Panaite added in the statement.
After detailed review, Panaite said she recognized that the first reference she had made to the earlier published article was “accidently omitted within the citation management software,” which Panaite was using for the first time.
“On a superficial quick glance, it appeared that all references were still there. … I do realize that this is an apparent problem and danger when using this EndNote program. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way,” Panaite said in the statement.
Panaite’s statement did not answer The Bruin’s questions about why the sentences and paragraphs that were copied verbatim were not enclosed in quotation marks.
Klokkevold, one of the co-authors, stressed that he was found innocent of the allegations according to the findings of the investigating committee.
“(Plagiarism) can certainly happen and I was surprised it could happen. I wasn’t even thinking that it was likely to happen. I wasn’t reviewing a manuscript to check for plagiarism. I took this as a means to help her with the editing process. … It wasn’t something I wanted to invest a lot of time in or wanted to spend time on. I changed things around relative to things I already knew without having to go to the Internet,” Klokkevold said.
“Theoretically, I could pick up a paper like this and do a pretty good job editing it because a lot of it is known from other articles. There is plenty of literature on this familiar topic. The topic itself is well-known by everyone. There is no way that unless I read the original paper I would have known it was published,” Klokkevold added.
In Park’s 11 years as a dean of the School of Dentistry, he said this was the first time he had witnessed such an extreme case of plagiarism.
Scott Waugh, the executive vice chancellor and provost, called plagiarism cases rare in scholarly circles.
Waugh also said the specific article in question reflected on the author, not on UCLA’s research.
“The rarity of the incidence doesn’t mean the quality of the research of the whole institution is compromised. It does undermine one particular individual, but there is no guilt by association,” Waugh added.
Most of the parties interviewed agreed that cases of plagiarism involving faculty are more complex than one would think.
“If a person is no longer here, one can still go through the process and reach a settlement. In general, most people would like to have as clean a record as possible,” Peccei said.
In almost all the cases, save a few extreme exceptions, ramifications are handled informally.
Formal charges must be made by Peccei’s office, which are then forwarded to the Academic Senate. The Academic Senate also conducts its own investigation and holds greater capacity for informal resolution.
If the Academic Senate is unable to reach an informal agreement, it will forward the individual’s file to the Committee on Privilege and Tenure, the committee with the ultimate authority to dismiss a faculty member from the institution.
Michael Goldstein, the senate’s chair, said issues involving plagiarism are more complicated when they involve professors because a lot of written work is authored by multiple people.
“Let’s say there are five authors on a paper that is accused of plagiarism. You could see how it would be more difficult to ascertain who is responsible for the specific part that is plagiarized,” Goldstein said.
Peccei also said Panaite’s case was more complicated because the paper had multiple authors.
Goldstein said there are several possible consequences for academic plagiarism, ranging from a conversation with the professor to the professor losing his or her job.
“Reaching a resolution informally includes a very wide range of things. The most minimal kind of thing would be if it was something trivial like plagiarized footnotes. Something like that could be resolved very easily with just as much as a talk,” Goldstein added.
“The next step could be a letter in your file that could describe the situation, and again, who can access the file could be another element that is part of the informal resolution. Another type of informal agreement could be that the faculty member’s promotion may be deferred a year. … The consequences can theoretically lead to losing their job,” Goldstein added.
Though the investigation is complete, Peccei is currently in the process of moving toward a resolution for closure on this case.