Published in volume 28, issue 1, January 2018

This issue contains two excellent papers that address modern and important problems. Why does the orientation change mess up my Android application? From GUI failures to code faults, by Domenico Amalfitano, Vincenzo Riccio, Ana Paiva, and Anna Rita Fasolino, investigates the common problem of mobile apps that fail when we turn our devices sideways. (Recommended by Marcio Delamaro.) CoopREP: Cooperative record and replay of concurrency bugs, by Nuno Machado, Paolo Romano, and Luís Rodrigues, presents a system that addresses the difficult problem of replicating concurrent faults, which often appear to be random. (Recommended by Paul Strooper.)


Do We Need to Teach Ethics to PhD Students?

I was in a faculty meeting last week where we were discussing a new course proposal on the research process for new PhD students. One topic in the proposal was integrity and ethics.

One of my colleagues claimed that “It’s ridiculous to teach ethics to PhD students; they should already know that.” So we deluged him with counter-examples.

A few years ago one of my students drafted a paper, and reused four paragraphs of related work from a previously published paper. He had no idea that was wrong! The first paper he wrote in his life was in graduate school. As a child, he had been identified as good at math and was tracked into technical programs through elementary school, high school, and college. Never wrote a paper in high school. Never took a writing class or wrote a paper in college.

This may be surprising to my colleagues from North America or England, but is normal in many countries. And puts an additional burden on us as mentors.

Last year three European authors submitted a paper to STVR that had already been published in a conference. Not an extension, but the exact same paper. They honestly did not know that was unethical.

I was in a PhD defense a few years ago where the student presented strong results from an interesting study on human subjects. When I asked about approval from the University’s Internal Review Board (IRB), he looked at me blankly. So did his advisor! They did not know they were required to get permission to use human subjects or risk losing the project’s government funding (this is federal law in the USA).

A colleague told me that one of his collaborators (since retired) had regularly ordered his PhD students to fetch lunch, coffee, and even pick up his kids. All at his students’ expense!

We had another case where a PhD student did a year’s worth of work, getting good results, designing an experiment, carrying it out, and analyzing the data. The student then had to drop out of the program for personal reasons, and the professor published the paper without the student’s name.

I have found my ideas published by other scientists three times. All three times my paper had been rejected by a conference and the scientists who stole my ideas were on the TPC. One admitted it and told me it was my fault for not writing a better paper. Another reviewed my second submission of the idea and accused me of plagiarizing from him! (I was able to resolve that with a well-dated technical report.)

These are all ethical violations of the highest order. Numerous smaller violations occur on a regular basis. Do we need to educate our students about ethics and integrity? Definitely! But it’s not just students, we must start with ourselves. Children do as their parents do, and students do as their advisors do.

How? It turns out the web, as usual, is very helpful. Google “ethics and integrity in research” and you will find many resources.

[1] Jeff Offutt. Plagiarism Is For Losers (Editorial), Wiley’s journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 25(1), January 2015.

[2] Jeff Offutt. Who Is An Author? (Editorial), Wiley’s journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 25(2), March 2015.

Jeff Offutt
George Mason University
8 December 2017