Officials at the University of Jyväskylä have begun a preliminary probe into allegations of plagiarism brought against Finns Party vice-chair and presidential candidate Laura Huhtasaari.
The university said that it was working with external experts to determine if there is any validity to the claims. It said that Huhtasaari will also have an opportunity to make her case.
According to lead counsel for the university Sanna Anttilainen, the probe is no more than a preliminary enquiry.
“Because these claims have been made public, it is in the interest of society, the scientific community and researchers to look into any suspicions about all research. It also in the best interest of the suspected individual,” Anttilainen commented.
The institution said that the probe could take weeks, in part because Huhtasaari must be given time to respond to the allegations.
According to Anttilainen a final decision about how to proceed will come from the university rector, Keijo Hämäläinen.
“We can’t provide an exact timetable for how the process will proceed,” she added.
Blog stirs up controversy
Suspicions that Huhtasaari may have plagiarised parts of her master’s thesis emerged earlier this week, when Tuomas Tiainen, general secretary of the Liberal Party formerly known as the Whisky Party, wrote about the matter in a blog.
In the post, Tiainen published three sections of Huhtasaari’s 2003 thesis, "Cultural Practices in Multicultural Basic Education Groups", which he claimed were almost directly copied from texts produced by others.
Huhtasaari took to Twitter and her blog to refute the allegations.
If the preliminary probe finds any shortcomings in Huhtasaari’s work Anttilainen said, the university will then have to adopt procedures recommended by the Finnish Advisory Board on Research Integrity.
Following the preliminary enquiry university rector Hämäläinen will decide whether or not to launch a full investigation into the case.
“It’s too early to adopt a position on the final outcome before the end of the initial probe,” Anttilainen noted.
Research work increasingly under scrutiny
Anttilainen said that universities generally use different kinds of software to test the authenticity of research work, however they also rely heavily on the professional skills of examiners to identify potential cases of plagiarism.
She added that the number of requests for ethics reviews of research work has increased over the last decade. However she said it has not become a widespread phenomenon.
She speculated that tertiary institutions refer roughly a dozen cases for investigation every year.
“Jyväskylä University receives about five different kinds of requests in a year. But it shows that these kinds of cases are more easily uncovered than before. It is positive that the research ethics of the scientific community are valued,” she concluded.