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Is Plagiarism A Problem in Science?

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Research Integrity | November 02, 2015

“Plagiarism is an act of fraud…it involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward,” said  Dr. Linda McManus, director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at the November Spotlight on Research Integrity workshop.

Dr. McManus explained that the Internet has exacerbated the problem.

“Cut and paste is just too easy,” Dr. McManus said. “Dishonest behavior typically exists before arriving at an institution such as ours.”


1) Is plagiarism really a problem here?

Dr. Nicquet Blake, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences said in eight years, she has only seen three cases of plagiarism.

“The most egregious case of plagiarism was a few years ago when a master’s student copied a thesis from the library and tried to pass it as their own,” she said. “To say the least, they did not get a degree here and we made sure that this will follow them their entire life."

2) What if it was unintentional?

Professor  Dr. Ratna Vadlamudi explained that sometimes plagiarism is unintentional.

“We don’t always do it purposely, sometimes it’s just carelessness,” he said.

Even if plagiarism is done through carelessness, Dr. Blake explained that there are still consequences.

“There are different levels, we use a process where intent is matched with the crime, obviously someone who lifted an entire paper is different than someone who misattributed quotes,” Dr. Blake said. “Regardless, it’s still added to your academic record.”

3) What if you just don’t know better?

Dr. Blake mentioned that international students often say that they were never taught about plagiarism.

“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse,” Dr. Blake said. “The graduate school has added a plagiarism workshop during International Student Orientation to educate trainees.”

4) So what about self-plagiarism?

“In terms of plagiarism, it seems clear but self-plagiarism is a bit of a grey zone,” Professor  Dr. Rong Li said. “My advice to students is to cite your work or to explain it in a different way.”

An audience member brought up that in most cases, the journals and book publishers own your work.

“If you want to use it, you need to contact the publisher because it’s not your work anymore,” Dr. McManus responded.

5) What if you were at a conference and a presenter presents an idea that’s interesting and I adapt it for my own work?

“If you are in the field long enough, you really owe people credit so even if you could write it in 1 st person, the reviewers will also know so you don’t really gain anything from it,” Dr. Li said. “When you gather ideas from someone else and further it, it shows respect for that person.”

6) What if my mentor and I have the same resume?

Dr. McManus explained that there have been cases of students that had F-grants that looked too similar to their mentors.

“It doesn’t look good for you to plagiarize at this stage, even if you have a similar path as your mentor, you should be able to stand out as a scientist on your own,” Dr. McManus said.

Next Steps

 “Prevention just like cancer prevention is the key thing that mentors should keep in mind,” Dr. Li said. “If we can stop it before it happens then that’s the best method.”

Dr. McManus also believes that there needs to be more conversations about plagiarism.

“Plagiarism isn’t going away,” she said. “We encourage trainees to have this conversation with others and your mentor.” 

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