In light of the recent allegations of fraud in research papers, the Malaysian Social Science Association (MSSA) wants universities to rethink the highly competitive ISI-indexed journal article requirements it is imposing on lecturers.
"With universities putting a high priority on ISI-indexed publications in order to boost their rankings, KPIs on research and publication have sometimes been set at unrealistic levels, thus putting pressure on academic staff and researchers.
"While this does not justify or mitigate the seriousness of such offences, it should serve as a reminder to our universities that setting unrealistic targets will draw desperate responses," MSSA said in a statement.
It said the motivation behind the allegedly fraudulent acts recently reported was the numbers game – getting as many papers published - with little regard for the ethics of research and publication.
MSSA was responding to the recent reports on scientific fraud involving four Universiti Malaya researchers from the Faculty of Medicine, and an earlier report on intellectual property rights infringement by UiTM.
Both, it warned, were causes for concern by the academic community and should lead to reflection on the reasons and causes of such occurrences.
Review research policies
MSSA expressed its deep concern over the matter and hoped that universities would continue to exercise vigilance over such unethical practices, and at the same time review their research and publication policies, which it said could have been instrumental in instigating such unscrupulous acts.
It pounced on Universiti Malaya, for despite having been quick to denounce such breaches of ethical conduct, calling for a retraction of the published articles and taking the mandatory disciplinary measures, there was hardly any attempt to diagnose the motivations for such fraudulent acts.
MSSA lamented that public expenditure on R&D in universities now needs to be justified in terms of the number of patents and ISI-indexed publications, instead of the actual contribution to the community, nation or real knowledge.
"Indeed, such a policy does not contribute towards the expansion of knowledge and learning, but, instead, stresses quantitative output, with little concern for content and quality," the NGO said, adding that misplaced emphasis on recognition in academic performance likely contributed to both the unfortunate Universiti Malaya and UiTM cases.
MSSA argued that while it is not rejecting the call for academic excellence, its pursuit must be realistic and within the bounds of our own resources.
It called for the objectives of the policy to be clear on what meaningful outcomes are expected from public investment in higher education, including R&D, instead of it denigrating into a pure numbers game.
"In this regard, the Malaysian Social Science Association calls for a re-instatement of the primacy of integrity and ethics in research and scholarship, over that of coerced performance, and for our universities to re-examine and revise their research and publication policies towards more meaningful and realistic demands," the NGO said.
The Universiti Malaya Academic Staff Association (PKAUM) has urged Universiti Malaya to conduct a thorough investigation after allegations of research fraud was levelled against its academics.
“PKAUM urges the management of Universiti Malaya (UM) to investigate the allegations thoroughly and without bias.
“The good names of any innocent parties must be restored. Any guilty ones should be exposed and punished.
“Hopefully this action would restore justice and brings back some credibility to the blessed and beloved Universiti Malaya,” said PKAUM secretary Aznijar Ahmad Yazid.
He was referring to claims made by the international research community against a research paper by authors are associated with UM.
It has been alleged that figures in the research paper were fabricated through duplication.
The paper titled ‘Novel piperazine core compound induces death in human liver cancer cells: possible pharmacological properties’ was published in Scientific Reports in April.
“If the allegations are proven true, it would mean a great shame, not only limited to the authors but also impacts Universiti Malaya.
“Manipulation of result is considered a major academic offence, a travesty in the noble profession.
“However, if the allegations are proven false, action need to be initiated against the accuser,” he said.