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Croatia's New Science Minister Investigated for Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Feb 23, 2017 8:38:00 AM

Pavo Barišić is Croatia’s new Science Minister. Appointed by the right-wing government coalition following the second election this year, Barišić is already proving to be a very controversial choice.

This is especially true among the local academic community, which has taken issue with scandals from his past. Those scandals include everything from prior praise for Nazi sympathizers to misuse of public funds.

One of those scandals is a plagiarism scandal that has only recently come to light despite the allegations originally being filed in 2011.

 The story was first reported in the newspaper Novosti in October. However, the allegations were actually filed in 2011 with a higher education ethics committee. According to the allegations, a 2008 paper published by Barišić in Synthesis Philosophica contained plagiarized text from U.S. political commentator Stephen Schlesinger.

To make matters worse, Barišić was on the editorial board of the publication at the time it was published.

However, the board it was reported to was inactive from 2011 to 2014 and the matter was never investigated. It was only after the Novosti article that the current head of the board said that all cases from those years would be looked at.

Schlesinger, for his part, looked at the work and did find that, in his view, it was plagiarized from him. In an interview with Chemistry World, he said that the paragraphs involved, “They should have been set in quotations and footnoted. Thus, however brief, they fulfill the definition of plagiarism.”

Barišić, however, denies the plagiarism. Saying that the work in question was published in three versions and that the issue was only in the first. In the latter ones, the paragraphs at issue were quoted and cited correctly. He also notes that none of the ethical allegations against him have been proven by any committee or court.

Still, this has not stopped academics in the country from saying that Barišić is not qualified for the position, saying that any one of his issues should disqualify him.

However, the story also points to challenges with dealing with academic ethics in publishing. An allegation of plagiarism was made involving a member of the editorial board of the journal the paper was published in. Unfortunately, that allegation went uninvestigated for at least five years.

Ethics infrastructure is crucial in academia. There needs to be a process for reporting ethical issues, a system for investigating it and a means of enforcing the decisions. Without such an infrastructure, ethical issues go undetected and researchers who do poor quality work continue to move forward in their career without being corrected.

This is an issue and a challenge at almost every level. Whether you’re dealing with high school students who are accused of cheating or experienced researchers who are accused of plagiarism, there needs to be a process for quickly addressing allegations.

The system, it seems, broke down in the case of Barišić but it may still catch up with him as the allegations are investigated years later. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what if the delay hadn’t happened at all.

It could be that Barišić would have been completely vindicated and would not be saddled with this issue at all or it could be that that the allegations would have stuck and Barišić would never have been considered for his new post.

Either way, there would not be this cloud hanging over him as he tries to settle into his new position.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.