Applying criminological theory
to academic fraud
Nicholas Walker and Kristy Holtfreter
Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Purpose – This paper aims to examine academic dishonesty and research misconduct, two forms of
academic fraud, and provides suggestions for future research informed by criminological theory.
Design/methodology/approach – After reviewing prior literature, this paper outlines four general
criminological theories that can explain academic fraud.
Findings – While criminological theory has been applied to some studies of academic dishonesty,
research misconduct has rarely been examined within a broader theoretical context.
Practical implications – This paper provides a blueprint for future theoretically informed analyses
of academic fraud.
Originality/value – This paper represents a unique attempt to apply general criminological theories
to diverse forms of fraud in higher education settings.
Keywords Fraud, Academic dishonesty, Criminological theory, Research misconduct
Paper type Literature review
Academic fraud is a type of deviance. The two main subcategories are academic
dishonesty and research misconduct. Fraud – a subcategory of white-collar criminality
(Newburn, 2007) – “uses deception as its principal modus operandi” (Wells, 1997,p.2).
According to Smith et al. (2011, p. 15), fraud is “some form of intention of deception
and/or dishonesty alongside the achievement of some kind of gain”. For instance,
anesthesiologist Dr Scott S. Reuben intentionally fabricated medical research ndings
in 21 empirical articles published from 1996 to 2008 (Harris, 2009;Winstein and
Armstrong, 2009). Reuben exposed countless patients and the medical industry to a
risky post-surgical pain treatment protocol. Reuben purported that non-steroidal
anti-inammatory and neuropathic drugs were more effective than narcotics.
Ultimately, the journals Anesthesiology and Anesthesia & Analgesia retracted Reuben’s
publications, and the medical industry has second-guessed the utility of Reuben’s
protocol (Winstein and Armstrong, 2009). Despite the pervasive and consequential
nature of academic fraud, the topic – particularly for research misconduct – has sparsely
been examined theoretically (Friedrichs, 2004;Lambert et al., 2003;Lanier, 2006). We
have a limited understanding of the nature and ramications of academic dishonesty
and research misconduct even though we know fraudulent behavior can produce
serious human, social and economic consequences (Rosoff et al., 2002).
The authors thank Katelyn A. Wattanaporn for her research assistance. Please direct
correspondence to Kristy Holtfreter, Arizona State University, School of Criminology & Criminal
Justice, 411 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ, 85,004 (email – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.22 No. 1, 2015
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