Ethical conduct in research is not just a matter of institutional rules but a core foundation of the moral and professional principles by which any scholar must be guided. Do academic economists, whose works still constantly influence legislations and policy making, follow this basic standard? Let’s tackle this crucial issue.
Based on a survey of journal editors in the economics profession, a study “Whose Line Is It? Plagiarism in Economics” (Enders and Hoover 2004) presented very troubling picture of reality in economics departments. This study found that nearly 24% of responding editors encounter one case of plagiarism in a typical year. Moreover, the survey reveals a great deal of tolerance among the journal towards this scientific misconduct: just less than 19% of responding journals have a formal policy regarding plagiarism. “Plagiarism in the Economics Profession: A Survey” (2006) showed that a disturbingly high proportion (24%) of respondents reported that they had been plagiarised in some form or other.
Recently, in several scandalous cases, economics journal Kyklos (1999), Research Policy (2007) and Journal of Economic Perspectives (2011) had to retract published articles that were identified as a blatant plagiarism and a violation of academic norms.
In “Academic economists behaving badly: A survey on three areas of unethical behavior” (List et al. 2007), the authors measured the degree to which individual academic economists have engaged in unethical behavior and the degree to which academic economists believe the profession as a whole engages in unethical behaviour. Three main types of behaviour were examined: (1) falsification of research; (2) expropriation of graduate student research or including an undeserving co-author; and (3) exchange of grades for gifts, money, or sexual favors, through anonymous self-reported responses from approximately 1,000 academic economists at the American Economic Association conference.
The results of this study also revealed weak and problematic ethical standards in economics profession. More than 4% of economists admitted to have at least one time falsified their data. About 7–10% admitted to have engaged in other academic misconduct such as submitting a manuscript to two or more journals, or not giving graduate students co-authorship on publications where co-authorship was justified, or inappropriately giving a colleague co-authorship status, or presenting the same research to more than one regional or annual meeting when it was prohibited.
The reported perceptions about the general population of economists indicate a belief that certain types of misbehavior are prevalent indeed. Respondents estimated that approximately 5-7% of published research is affected by felonies and they are skeptical of some work that is published in the top economics journals. In terms of ethical behavior, the researchers found that 13-17% believe that economists behave inappropriately when it comes to items in the realm of including an undeserving co-author. Concerning perceptions of selling grades, academic economists believe that about 4% of other economists have engaged in such activity. There were no academic rank or gender effects on the results.
A must-watch, Oscar winning documentary “Inside Job” exposed other egregious patterns of dishonest behavior of economists that have sold off their scholarly integrity for huge sums of money, manipulated with papers and concealed from the public their conflicts of interests.
Falsified economics “research” and unethical behavior of economists are not just a matter of the academic Ivory Tower and personal accountability. These economists’ papers and recommendations caused to enact and execute misinformed and erroneous policies which have harmed the lives of dozens of millions. These are the figures engaged in educating students in economics department and business schools. Think about it.
Therefore, unfortunately but not surprisingly, this aspect of economics profession actually adds an additional layer to Paul Samuelson’s sharp observation: “Economics has never been a science – and it is even less now than a few years ago.“