Ethics and Plagiarism Update

As the world’s leading Computing Society, preserving the integrity of the scientific process is very much at the core of ACM’s mission. So much so that over the years ACM introduced, maintains, and periodically updates the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct known universally as “The Code”, which was first introduced in 1966 as ACM’s Guidelines for Professional Conduct in Information Processing and then updated into the first Code of Conduct in 1972. Over the years, The Code has become the global standard for evaluating ethical and professional conduct for the Computing community.

Over the past decade, ACM has seen a significant increase in the number of claims of publications-related misconduct and as a result more recently established the Ethics + Plagiarism Committee of the ACM Publications Board to investigate and adjudicate such claims.

The E+P Committee, as we commonly refer to it inside ACM, has become one of the most active of the Publications Board committees and ACM has invested heavily in related tools and services to facilitate investigations and administer penalties related to cases of proven misconduct.

Since 2017, we have seen a steady rise in the number of claims ACM receives in connection with various types of Ethics, Plagiarism, and Publications Policy related misconduct.

The following tables provide data related to the number and types of cases ACM has investigated since 2017, including many cases that remain active today:

2017-2021 Ethics and Plagiarism Numbers Active Cases During Each Year

Year Active Ethics Cases Active Plagiarism Cases Active Ethics + Plagiarism Cases * Total Cases **
2017 10 10 1 21
2018 9 18 2 29
2019 20 33 6 59
2020 22 19 7 48
2021 YTD 3 4 0 7
Total Cases 64 84 16 164

* The “Active Ethics + Plagiarism Cases” column shows cases that deal with both potential ethics and plagiarism violations
** Active case numbers represent total ongoing cases in each of the above years, including carryover cases from previous years

2017-2021 Ethics and Plagiarism Numbers of New & Closed Cases Each Year

Year New Ethics Cases New Plagiarism Cases New Ethics + Plagiarism Cases Closed Ethics Cases Closed Plagiarism Cases Closed Ethics + Plagiarism Cases
2016 2 1 0 0 0 0
2017 8 9 1 7 6 1
2018 6 14 2 4 9 1
2019 15 24 5 13 26 4
2020 15 13 5 11 19 6
2021 YTD 7 4 0 6 1 0
Total Cases 53 65 13 41 61 12

2017-2021 Ethics and Plagiarism Claim Numbers by Publication Types

ACM Journals / Magazines 22 Claims
ACM Proceedings / Conference Publications 87 Claims
Non-ACM Publications * 21 Claims

*ACM regularly receives claims of potential misconduct in connection with non-ACM claims, although ACM Policy prevents ACM from investigating such claims

2017-2021 Ethics & Publications Policy Claim Numbers by Type of Potential Violations

Peer Reviewer Misconduct 23
Conflict of Interest 3
Coercion, Abuse, Harassment, Retaliation 2
Missing Author Attribution 9
Simultaneous Submission 7
Gift Authorship 3
Falsification of Research & Research Misconduct 8
Peer Reviewer 1
Attempted Pay to Publish 1
Changing Author Order Prior to Publication 1

2017-2021 Plagiarism Claim Numbers by Type of Potential Violations

Plagiarism 60
Self-Plagiarism 9
Combined Plagiarism and Simultaneous Submission 2
Combined Plagiarism and Reviewer Misconduct 1

As the summary data shows, there is a wide range of violation types. What the data doesn’t show is the severity of the claims ACM receives and what types of penalties are imposed on those found guilty of these violations. For the more severe types of violations, decision making is done by the E+P Committee (acting as a proxy for the ACM Publications Board) or in the most extreme cases by the ACM Publications Board itself, such as a recent case that was highly publicized in the mainstream media and throughout several ACM SIG communities. Minor cases are handled directly by the ACM Director of Publications working with ACM Headquarters staff and the Chair of the E+P Committee.

The most serious ethics/plagiarism violations involve falsification of research and other forms of research misconduct; coercion and harassment-related misconduct; undeclared conflicts of interest and related misconduct; and peer reviewer-related misconduct.

Those found guilty of such violations face severe consequences that will likely have a tangible impact on their professional careers. ACM takes its obligation to preserve the integrity of the research we publish very seriously and as a result continue to invest significant time and resources to identify ways to improve our publications policies, how we investigate claims of misconduct, make it easier and safer for individuals who wish to come forward and make claims of potential misconduct, and to accelerate the decision-making process. Over the coming months, ACM’s Publications Board will be conducting a thorough review of all ACM publications policies, especially those related to the most serious types of potential misconduct. As our Policies are updated, we will communicate changes to the broader ACM community.

If anyone in the community feels that a violation of ACM publications policy has taken place, including plagiarism of a published ACM work, please visit the following ACM Violations Webpage, complete the Online Web Form to report the potential violation, and contact ACM’s Director of Publications once you have taken these initial steps if you have questions.