How Not To Deal With Plagiarism

from the owning-up dept

We’ve had a few posts about plagiarism here on Techdirt, and how it differs from copyright infringement. One important question that needs to be considered is: what’s the correct way to acknowledge and correct plagiarism when it is discovered? Probably not like this, in a case pointed out to us by Ivan Oransky via Jonathan Eisen, and reported by Retraction Watch:

PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] has a curious correction in a recent issue. A group from Toronto and Mount Sinai in New York, it seems, had been rather too liberal in their use of text from a previously published paper by another researcher — what we might call plagiarism, in a less charitable mood.

To paraphrase Beyoncé: If you like it, better put some quotation marks around it. But we’re pretty sure she meant before, not after, the fact.

That is, the PNAS correction simply put quotation marks around the text that had been, er, borrowed, and then linked the new quotations to the original paper. The problem with this approach is that it fails to acknowledge the plagiarism — the text simply says that some of the descriptions were “not appropriately noted in our article” — or the real magnitude of contribution from others, since multiple passages link to a reference at the end of the article. As a result, PNAS ends up looking rather pathetic for attempting to play down what happened in this way. As some in the lively comments section on the Retraction Watch piece note, it would have been far better to retract the entire article, re-write and re-submit it.

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Comments on “How Not To Deal With Plagiarism”

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Anonymous Coward says:


One of the practical problems is that appropriate plagiarism-related behavior (and the associated ethics) are both genre- and discipline-related. These nuances generally get lost in discussions.

Authorship ethics and practices are similarly variable: Who gets listed; whose work is acknowledged; whose work is not.

Given the stakes (money and reputation) the fights can be vicious, too, if pretty meaningless for the larger issues.

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