Plagiarism in Scholarly and Medical Journals

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Harold Garner, Executive Director and Professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, and Melissa Anderson, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, talk about scholarly and medical journal articles being retracted with increasing frequency because of software that can detect plagiarism and bad data. They’ll discuss the problems of plagiarism and peer reviewing and what happens when people are accused of it.


Melissa Anderson and Harold Garner

Comments [15]


I needed my mentor's approval for publication of a research paper, since the work was done in his lab and with his grant money. The ideas and research were 100% my own (ZERO input from him). The work was already in my thesis and completed.

I wrote the paper for publication and gave it to him to read, edit and submit. MONTHS went by and he kept telling me that he hasn't had a chance to look at it. (Meanwhile, I'm looking for a job and need to get my work published.) It turned out, he very slightly modified my experiments and with his new graduate student published their paper first.

Soon after his paper was published he submitted mine. Of course, it now looks like his original work and ideas and that my work is based on his research.

I was furious and offended. Somehow, I naively expected more from my mentor, after all those years in his lab. (However, there are grants and colleagues to worry about.)

Jan. 20 2012 05:17 AM
Andrew from south orange, NJ

As an adjunct in the CUNY system in the late 90s, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of failing two students on the morning of a Final Exam in Freshman Composition. They both had plagiarized essays and turned them in on the last day of class, thereby giving me no chance to look them over and address the problem in a future class meeting. The essays weren't even going in their portfolios--a major part of their grade--but were part of the ten-essay requirement for the course.

Nevertheless, I told them they were failing the course and that they need not take the Final. It was upsetting to both them and me, but I felt it was the right thing to do. Later that day, I had to deal with one student's mother, and another's boyfriend, but I stuck to my guns.

While I appreciate the politics within departments on the subject, is this not an academic line in the sand that has to be protected at all levels? Is there no worse sin committed in the Academy than passing off others' words as one's own?

Jan. 19 2012 12:40 PM
MP from Brooklyn

Mike, your point is well taken. My brother teaches high school and his wife teaches college. Both struggle with their students' plagiarism endlessly. They feel they are fighting a losing battle, and as you say, the bad habits that get overlooked in high school get carried over into college and, presumably, beyond.

Jan. 19 2012 12:38 PM
Kelly from NJ

If a scholar writes an unpublished paper with one co-author, and then takes part of that paper that s/he wrote (the co-author did not contribute to that particular passage) and publishes that language in a journal with a different co-author, is that plagiarism?

Jan. 19 2012 12:34 PM
Mike from New Jersey

My wife teaches a foreign language to English speakers. Her students insist on using the on-line translation tools and when she tells them that this is, a terrible translation, and equivalent to plagiarism, her students complain to her principal.
While this is at the high school level, these students will probably carry their work habits to college and beyond.

Jan. 19 2012 12:31 PM
MC from LIC

What do anti-plagiarism advocates say about legislation to protect intellectual property like SOPA and PIPA? How much should arenas like the internet be policed in order to balance ethics and intellectual freedom?

Jan. 19 2012 12:30 PM
Hugh Sansom

Years ago, I co-authored a user manual for a major program for a major computer maker. One of the managers took my name off and substituted his own — wholesale theft. I almost passed out — literally — when I saw the printed work. The guy had the gall to smirk at me as he saw my reaction. But he was a higher-up at a multi-billion dollar corporation, so I had _no_ recourse.

I think the real issue here is one of power and those in power profiting by the work of others — both a far broader problem than the guests suggest in one sense, but narrower in another.

Students who plagiarize may well be ruined — not so the privileged (witness Dershowitz, Goodwin, Ambrose — all of whom got away with plagiarizing).

Jan. 19 2012 12:30 PM
Hugh Sansom

Does anybody see a problem here?

So person B hears a talk about A's idea X. B has a brilliant idea Y based on A's X, but would not have had the idea but for hearing A. The two guests are dancing very close to suggesting that _A_ deserves credit for Y.

Jan. 19 2012 12:23 PM
Eric Russell from Basking Ridge, NJ, formerly Brownstone Brooklyn

This is not at all new. When my father took his MS at Columbia in the late 40's, one of his professors used papers submitted for his course as chapters in his book--without attribution.

Jan. 19 2012 12:22 PM
ed from NY

Repeating a method in a paper is stating specifically what was done and is not plagarism but being specific. I have encountered numerous examples where paper A states a method was performed as in prior paper B, paper B refers to paper C, and paper C does not list the method.

Jan. 19 2012 12:21 PM
Peter from North Carolina

I have taught graduate class as an adjunct at three universities. I have had numerous students plagiarize in their papers. One student even plagiarized at great length an article I had edited. I had two students hand in the same exact paper, in the same class, in the same semester.

University chairs and deans have no stomach for dealing with it. I was told, “We don’t want to get sued”, “Your syllabus did not say that plagiarism is cheating so the university can’t do anything, “If we punish the student or kick him out it will ruin his life”, “She has a family", etc. Students go largely unpunished.

In one situation, my chair would not even return my calls when I tired speaking to him about a student who had plagiarized.

Then of course there is the problem of researchers who basically write their PhD student's journal articles, one may presume, to promote a certain point of view.

Jan. 19 2012 12:16 PM
Hugh Sansom

I meant that Hooke plagiarized, or attempt to plagiarize, Newton.

Jan. 19 2012 12:16 PM
Hugh Sansom from New York

Two points about plagiarism:

1. Our current notion of plagiarism is fairly new. 200 years ago, the notion that we today us largely didn't exist. It wasn't absent centuries ago (Hooke plagiarized Hooke; somebody or other — not Salieri — tried to pass off Mozart's Requiem as his own).

2. Let's not pretend that plagiarism is just a problem of _students_.

Alan Dershowitz was _exhaustively and conclusively_ proven to have plagiarized in one of the most thoroughly fact-checked analyses in university press history. Now-Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan was instrumental in giving him a pass on his theft.

Stephen Ambrose, proven plagiarist.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, proven and admitted.

Martin Luther King, Jr., almost certainly plagiarized portions of his doctoral dissertation.

The Bush administration plagiarized _false_ material to fabricate its case for war against Iraq.

The British film "A Night to Remember" stole German film footage (in no small part because it was British law rejected any copyright claim by Germany during the Second World War).

Jan. 19 2012 12:15 PM
rob from NYC

downloading and copying things, found on the internet, is not a plagiarism as your guest suggested. presenting these things as they were created by yourself is.

Jan. 19 2012 12:12 PM
V. Bosh from Pa

What happens when professors plagiarize?

Jan. 19 2012 12:11 PM

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