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Curtin University
Note to staff

29 April 2014


Plagiarism issue

It is with regret that I write to inform you Curtin will be featured in a story about plagiarism that is scheduled to appear in The Australian tomorrow. I would rather you heard about this directly from me rather than reading about it in the newspaper, so I am alerting you to the issue now. Much of the information contained in this Note has been provided to The Australian.

Briefly, a complaint was received by the University in late February about alleged plagiarism by an academic staff member. As with all complaints, we took the matter seriously and lodged the complaint with the University’s Professional Standards and Conduct Unit. It was then reported to the Corruption and Crime Commission and returned to us for investigation. A final copy of the report of our investigation was submitted to the CCC and the file has since been closed by the CCC.

The investigation was undertaken by Professor Paul Fairall, Foundation Dean and Head of the Curtin Law School. His investigation found that the paper contained two instances of plagiarism that were contained largely in one paragraph and a number of other sentences. The report concluded that: “Within the overall context of the paper it is relatively minor – it is certainly not extensive”. There were also examples of “close paraphrasing or verbatim copying from an acknowledged source”.

The academic concerned admitted her error, acknowledged the findings of the report, and immediately resigned her leadership position.

When the University became aware of some additional issues beyond the paper that was the focus of the original complaint, processes were immediately set in train to investigate these issues and the CCC has again been notified. The academic has already admitted to there being issues in one further article. In addition to this, the University is aware that some further titles were removed from the staff member’s website and these will now also be closely scrutinised. It is acknowledged that some of these articles have co-authors, which will be considered as part of the investigation.

Such issues are very serious and I am fully committed to investigating this matter and any other allegations that come forward in a transparent and timely manner. I take this opportunity to remind staff of the requirement to follow the Australian Code of Responsible Conduct of Research developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Staff affected by this matter have been reminded of the availability of Curtin’s counselling services and as always, I welcome your feedback.

  1. Mattie Turnbull April 29, 2014 7:04pm

    I have conducted a ‘search’ regarding Curtin’s policy (staff) on potential plagiarism but have not been able to locate such administrative procedure. Do we have one?

    Mattie Turnbull

  2. Paul Nicholls April 29, 2014 8:34pm

    Hi Mattie

    Relevant research policies can be found at


  3. Dr Joseph M Fernandez April 29, 2014 9:10pm

    And “It was then reported to the Corruption and Crime Commission…”

  4. Keith Gregg April 30, 2014 8:15am

    I do not suggest that such occurrences are necessarily occurring at Curtin, but on the 25th October, 2013, the ABC on The Drum published a discussion that included examples of scientific misconduct. These included published results that could not be validated in later work. To quote: “In a commentary published in journal Nature in 2012, scientists from biotech company Amgen found that findings in 90 per cent of the important cancer papers published in significant medical journals could not be replicated, even with the help of original scientists.” Other examples expanded the details on specific cases.
    Perhaps the most important point that was made in this opinion piece was that pressure to perform appears to be at least part of the reason for such behaviour. This pressure has included the need to publish a certain minimum number of papers per year in prestigious journals and the need to acquire substantial research grants in order to meet employment performance criteria.
    I’m sure there is considerable debate about the validity of these conclusions, but in establishing just these kinds of requirements for assessment of academic staff performance at Curtin it is fair to ask whether the increased pressure to perform by these criteria might make scientific misconduct a more likely event. The fear of losing a career, especially for those in mid-life with mortgages, schooling costs, and dependents to house and feed, is truly frightening. Perhaps placing such pressures on those who are expected to think freely and work creatively may not be the most appropriate management strategy.

  5. Deborah Terry April 30, 2014 8:17am

    Dear Joseph

    Thank you for the question. Under the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) Act 2003, I have a responsibility as the CEO of a public authority to report possible misconduct. For more detail relating to this responsibility, please refer to Section 4 (page 4) of the following CCC guidance:

    I hope this clarifies the issue.

    with best wishes


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