Plagiarism claims turn spotlight on US Navy's misconduct policy

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A psychologist alleged to have plagiarized at least three books has been picked to head the research office at a major US Navy facility. The appointment raises questions about how the Navy deals with cases of scientific misconduct.

Dennis L. Reeves, who is 46, was named in August as head of the Clinical Investigation Department at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California, which monitors a broad array of research at several institutions in the region.

The promotion occurred at a time when the state of Maryland, where Reeves received his psychology licence, was considering taking disciplinary action because of the long-simmering charges of plagiarism. A psychologist licensed in one state can practise at any Navy facility.

Reeves has apologized to some of the authors in letters for what he termed inadvertent “borrowing” of material that was not “adequately attributed”. Reeves and his superiors declined to be interviewed.

Like many US institutions, the Navy has no specific policy on probes into scientific misconduct. Edie Rosenthal, a Navy spokeswoman, says there are no plans to develop such a policy, because “our judicial system works well” on such matters.

The Navy examined some aspects of the issue in 1994 when the allegations first surfaced, deciding then that there was no plagiarism. But Navy records and interviews indicate that the inquiry was limited in scope. A colleague of Reeves examined the allegation, deciding in November 1994 there was only “editorial and style error”.

But the Navy apparently did not scrutinize the remainder of the book, The Clinical Assessment of Memory: A Practical Guide, by Reeves and Danny Wedding, a psychologist at the University of Missouri who directs the Missouri Institute of Mental Health in St Louis.

Shortly after it was published by Springer Publishing Co. of New York, a nationally renowned psychologist, Muriel D. Lezak, claimed that the book included sections from one of her books published by Oxford University Press (OUP).

After demands from OUP, Springer ceased distribution of the Reeves/Wedding book in August 1995, destroyed the remaining copies and paid Lezak a $2,000 settlement. “Plagiarism is very high on my list of disgusting acts,” commented Lezak, of the Oregon Health Sciences University.

She says she later discovered that parts of the Reeves/Wedding book included passages from psychologists at Harvard University, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the University of California at San Diego.

Several of these authors complained to OUP. They also complained to the American Psychological Association (APA) about Wedding, who, unlike Reeves, is an APA member. Both Wedding and the APA refused to say what action, if any, was taken.

Although credited as co-author, Wedding says he wrote only two chapters, and neither included plagiarized material.

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Dalton, R. Plagiarism claims turn spotlight on US Navy's misconduct policy. Nature 389, 532 (1997) doi:10.1038/39140

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