You've been plagiarized

Some experts claim that plagiarism is rampant in the scientific literature. Others say that it's a serious but relatively rare occurrence. The trouble is it's hard to put one's finger on exactly how prevalent plagiarism, duplication, improper citation, and other less tractable taboos have become in scientific publishing. It's even harder to unearth the reactions of the interested parties -- original and secondary authors and journal editors. A new survey appearing in this week's issue of __Scie

Bob Grant
Bob Grant

Bob Grant is Editor in Chief of The Scientist, where he started in 2007 as a Staff Writer.

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Mar 4, 2009
Some experts claim that plagiarism is rampant in the scientific literature. Others say that it's a serious but relatively rare occurrence. The trouble is it's hard to put one's finger on exactly how prevalent plagiarism, duplication, improper citation, and other less tractable taboos have become in scientific publishing. It's even harder to unearth the reactions of the interested parties -- original and secondary authors and journal editors. A new survey appearing in this week's issue of __Science__ does just that. linkurl:Harold Garner,;http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/findfac/professional/0,2356,12465,00.html a physicist-turned-biochemist and software engineer, along with colleagues at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, identified more than 200 pairs of manuscripts that had "signs of potential plagiarism" from the millions of biomedical research citations listed on MEDLINE, the U.S. National Library of Medicine's bibliographic database. Garner then contacted and compiled responses from anonymous plagiarizers, those they plagiarized, and the journal editors who published the manuscripts. "What...
is it's hard to put one's finger on exactly how prevalent plagiarism, duplication, improper citation, and other less tractable taboos have become in scientific publishing. It's even harder to unearth the reactions of the interested parties -- original and secondary authors and journal editors. A new survey appearing in this week's issue of __Science__ does just that. linkurl:Harold Garner,;http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/findfac/professional/0,2356,12465,00.html a physicist-turned-biochemist and software engineer, along with colleagues at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, identified more than 200 pairs of manuscripts that had "signs of potential plagiarism" from the millions of biomedical research citations listed on MEDLINE, the U.S. National Library of Medicine's bibliographic database. Garner then contacted and compiled responses from anonymous plagiarizers, those they plagiarized, and the journal editors who published the manuscripts. "What we tried to do was capture the various attitudes and levels of response that could characterize why [plagiarism] has gone completely uncontrolled for such a long time," Garner told __The Scientist__. The responses ranged from apology and concern to denial and befuddlement. Here are some of the more interesting responses highlighted in __Science__. From authors of the original papers: "We were very sorry and somewhat surprised when we found their article. I don't want to accept them as scientists." "I have no statement. I cannot prove that this is plagiarism. Even if it is, what can be done?" From authors of the papers containing hints of plagiarism: "I would like to offer my apology to the authors of the original paper for not seeking the permission for using some part of their paper. I was not aware of the fact I am required to take such permission." "I know my careless mistake resulted in a severe ethical issue. I am really disappointed with myself as a researcher." "There are probably only 'x' amount of word combinations that could lead to 'y' amount of statements.... I have no idea why the pieces are similar, except that I am sure I do not have a good enough memory-and it is certainly not photographic-to have allowed me to have 'copied' his piece.... I did in fact review [the earlier article] for whatever journal it was published in." From editors at the journal that published the papers with plagiarism: "Believe me, the data in any paper is the responsibility of the authors and not the journal." "The news has taken us by surprise and a sense of deep concern. We are calling an emergency meeting of the editorial board to discuss the matter. [Our journal] deeply condemns the act and we stand firm to take necessary actions against the authors." From the editors at the journal that published the original papers: "It's my understanding that copying someone else's description virtually word-for-word, as these authors have done, is considered a compliment to the person whose words were copied." "I have been Editor for 14+ years and this is the first time this issue has been raised." linkurl:Daria Sorokina,;http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~daria/ a Carnegie Mellon University postdoc and computer scientist who previously linkurl:studied;http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~daria/papers/PlagiarismDetection_full.pdf software used to detect plagiarism, told __The Scientist__ that she was surprised to read the responses indicating that journal editors "were not willing to deal with [plagiarism]." Sorokina was not involved with the survey appearing in Science. Garner said that everything from cultural differences regarding the use of other authors' words to the widespread use of the internet and electronic word processing and the economic downturn could be contributing to an uptick in plagiarism in the scientific literature, a trend he described in a __Nature__ linkurl:commentary;http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7177/full/451397a.html last year. To track down the cases used in his latest survey, Garner used a biomedical literature search engine called linkurl:eTBLAST,;http://invention.swmed.edu/etblast/index.shtml and a publicly accessible database called linkurl:Deja vu,;http://spore.swmed.edu/dejavu/ both developed in his linkurl:lab.;http://innovation.swmed.edu/ There are several other similar tools and databases -- such as linkurl:Ithenticate;http://www.ithenticate.com/ and linkurl:CrossCheck;http://www.crossref.org/crosscheck.html -- available to journal editors and reviewers, and some journals have implemented regular text scans for plagiarized passages as part of the routine reviewing process. Garner said that the suite of existing software tools and publicly-accessible databases might ease detection of inappropriate manuscript practices such as plagiarism. "You can't expect all the editors and reviewers to have all 18,000,000 papers in their head from biomedicine," he said. "The blame lies on the need to have technologies to help find this stuff and then to use them." Sorokina agreed that the widespread use of technologies could counteract the growth of such practices. "First you need to make the tools available," she said. "Second you need to convince editors to use the tools. I think it will take some time before it becomes very common." linkurl:Larry Claxton,;http://yosemite.epa.gov/rtpspeakers/rtpspeakers.nsf/byTopic/FB5D400FA7CEFAFA852573FD0067511D?OpenDocument a research biologist at the US Environmental Protection Agency, told __The Scientist__ that beyond authors and publishers, researchers' home institutions should take measures to curb plagiarism in scientific papers. "If the institutions were more diligent in looking for abuses and taking action when abuses are found, I think that would help curb plagiarism," he said. Claxton, who was not speaking on behalf of EPA but rather expressing his own experiences tracking plagiarism in the scientific literature, added that the step becomes even more important at government research institutions, which often review studies prior to publication. Garner added that his group is thinking about creating a commercial site to complement the publicly accessible tools that his lab has already produced. Garner said he envisions journal publishers or reviewers being able to sign up for the service and search submitted manuscripts for plagiarized passages for "maybe a buck or something" per paper.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Flagging fraud;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55287/
[17th December 2008]*linkurl:Plagiarism detection 2.0;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54641/
[12th May 2008]*linkurl:Plagiarists beware;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54546/
[11th April 2008]

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