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How Data Mining Uncovered Rampant Scientific Plagiarism and Fraud

The author wanted to build software that would navigate medical jargon. He ended up uncovering widespread plagiarism and hundreds of millions of dollars in potential fraud

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In 1994 I reinvented myself. A physicist and engineer at General Atomics, I was part of an internal think tank charged with answering hard questions from any part of the company. Over the years, I worked on projects as diverse as cold fusion and Predator drones. But by the early 1990s I was collaborating frequently with biologists and geneticists. They would tell me what cool new technologies they needed to do their research; I would go try to invent them.

Around that time I heard about a new effort called the Human Genome Project. The goal was to decipher the sequence of the approximately three billion DNA bases, or code letters, in human chromosomes. I was fascinated. I happened to read an article in this magazine noting that some of the necessary technology had yet to be invented. Physicists and engineers would have to make it happen. And before I knew it, I found myself a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where my scientific partner, a geneticist, and I were building one of the Human Genome Project's first research centers.

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