Last year, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article titled “Plagiarism in Grant Proposals” by Karen M. Markin. The topic of plagiarism in grant proposals is something I discuss in my grant development seminars and workshops, and this article made the topic more tangible for many of the participants (although there is still always a lot of discussion and disbelief around the concept of self-plagiarism). If you haven’t read this article, and you are involved in grant development, I would highly recommend that you take some time to review the article and share it with your team. One very salient point made is that the PI will always be held responsible for content, and the line “my graduate student did it” is not a defense.
Often, however, seminar and workshop participants ask for an example, and recently a case of plagiarism in a grant proposal was addressed by the Office of Research Integrity. In this case, a grant proposal was found to include text plagiarized from a proposal the applicant had reviewed for NIAMS and several journal articles. In addition to the issue of plagiarism, there is, of course, the issue of confidentiality of grant proposals. Proposals writers often fear the confidentiality of the peer review process and worry about the safety of their ideas, and unfortunately this situation plays into those fears and will only redouble that anxiety in the community. Retraction Watch, a web site with a self-explanatory name, indicates that this is the second time within six months a researcher in the same department had been sanctioned by the ORI.
I exclude details and names here and leave it to interested parties to follow the links for more information on this case, because my purpose is not to shame. My purpose here is only to provide a resource for professionals involved in grant development to better understand the issue and the gravity of its ramifications–and to urge those involved in grant development to have an open and frank discussion with their teams about what plagiarism is, what it isn’t, and how it can be avoided.