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Sanna Kaisa Spoof

Sanna Kaisa Spoof (nee Pesälä)
Born 1962, Lahti

Master of Arts (Finno-Ugric ethnology, art history, archaeology) 1987, Licentiate 1992, PhD (Finno-Ugric ethnology) 1998, University of Helsinki
Docent in Finno-Ugric ethnology, University of Helsinki, 2002–

Secretary General, 1 September, 2010–, Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity
Research and Postgraduate Studies Officer 2009–10, Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki
Senior Training Officer 2007–09, Sibelius Academy's continuing education
Secretary general 2001–07, Lahti University Consortium
Research associate 1988–2001, Department of Cultural Studies (the Department of Ethnology until 13 July 1988), University of Helsinki
Researcher 1987, department of research, National Board of Antiquities

Photo: Ruusukuva
Written by Sanna Kaisa Spoof (Tiia Niemelä, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

Questions of plagiarism and authorship

As Secretary General of the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity, Dr Sanna Kaisa Spoof has a ring-side seat on developments in research ethics in Finnish research circles.

“A couple of years ago plagiarism was a hot topic in academia. Universities took swift action and implemented electronic plagiarism detection systems. Today, both undergraduate theses and dissertations are run through a plagiarism detection system before publication. The system is neither fool proof nor fully automatic; each case still requires human review and evaluation. But as the programs have become more common, people have learned to utilise them to good effect.”

Today the major source of disputes is disagreement over authorship.

“Most commonly problems arise in joint articles resulting from the work of a research team.”

In the RCR guidelines, research teams are recommended to agree on authorship issues in advance, before writing down a single line, but this is still far from the norm. Problems arise if some member of the research team feels their name should have been on the report, or somebody else's name shouldn't be there. Even the order of the names matters: in some fields the first name listed is the most important, in some fields the last.

The number of authorship issues varies by discipline. For example, in the humanities the authors of a paper or a monograph can usually be counted on one hand, and frequently the contribution of each author is clearly delineated; in contrast, a research team in physics may have several hundred members, which makes it far more challenging to list each individual contribution in the publication.

“Template for a researcher's curriculum vitae” was released on “Ethics Day 2012”. Photo: TENK

According to Dr Spoof, issues and disputes over authorship often spring from rivalry between researchers. Since the status of a researcher is often determined by the number of their publications and how prestigious the journals are where they are published, many researchers are eager to have their name on as many publications as possible. Universities collect this data into citation index databases, which are frequently employed to rank universities. Thus, citation numbers improve the standing not only of the researcher but their employer as well. Dr Spoof notes that there have even been occasional allegations of researchers padding their list of publications to enhance their citation index or to improve their chances with job or research grant applications.

“But in Finland, research ethics is at a fairly good level from an international perspective, and actual academic dishonesty is quite rare.”

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