This paper presents three cases of research ethics violations in the social sciences and humanities that involved major educational institutions in vietnam. The violations share two common points: the use of sophistry by the accused perpetrators and their sympathisers, and the relative ease with which they succeeded unpunished. The strategies the violators used to avoid punishment could be summarised as: (i) relying on people not paying enough attention when asked to do something relatively quickly, (ii) asking for the benefit of the doubt, (iii) redefining the meaning of ethics, and (iv) defaming the whistleblowers and showing how fighting ethics violations is too costly, slow and, in the end, worthless. We offer suggestions to improve transparency: investment in translation and education about codes of conduct in vietnam; investment in research ethics and integrity; the use of open online resources and platforms; and educating vietnamese researchers about international standards. 2018, European association of science editors. All rights reserved.