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  Home > Ethics > Curriculum > Plagiarism
Teaching Ethics for Research, Scholarship, & Practice

Plagiarism

Marty Dworkin

Learning Objectives

University Policies and Procedures

Curriculum Overview

Case Studies

Information Resources

 

Learning Objectives

  1. Define plagiarism
  2. Given situations of common problems that arise in written work and in oral presentations, the learner will describe approaches that acknowledge the ideas of others.
  3. Given brief descriptions of a range of actions that may constitute plagiarism, the learner will indicate 1) the extent to which colleagues (or research ethics "experts") are likely to consider the act as an instance of plagiarism, and 2) distinguish likely from unlikely potential remedies for the offense.

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University Policies and Procedures

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Curriculum Overview

First and Only Principle:

Do not steal the words or ideas of another.

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Definition of Plagiarism

"The spectrum is a wide one. At one end there is a word-for-word copying of another’s writing without enclosing the copied passage in quotation marks and identifying it in a footnote, both of which are necessary . . . . It hardly seems possible that anyone of college age or more could do that without clear intent to deceive. At the other end there is the almost casual slipping in of a particularly apt term which one has come across in reading and which so admirably expresses one’s opinion that one is tempted to make it personal property. Between these poles there are degrees and degrees, but they may be roughly placed in two groups. Close to outright and blatant deceit—but more the result, perhaps, of laziness than of bad intent—is the patching together of random jottings made in the course of reading, generally without careful identification of their source, and then woven into the text, so that the result is a mosaic of other people’s ideas and words, the writer’s sole contribution being the cement to hold the pieces together. Indicative of more effort and, for that reason, somewhat closer to honesty, though still dishonest, is the paraphrase, an abbreviated (and often skillfully prepared) restatement of someone else’s analysis or conclusions without acknowledgement that another person’s text has been the basis for the recapitulation." Martin et al. 1969.

AAUP, 1989; Salazar, M. K., 1993.

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Case Studies

B6 and B7 from "Teaching the responsible conduct of research through a case study approach; A handbook for instructors". Association of American Medical Colleges, 1994.

Also: "A case of plagiarism" from "On being a scientist; Responsible conduct in research" National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995, p. 18.

Case B6

Dr. Alice Charles, a mid-career scientist, was revising and updating a book chapter. This led her to review other articles on the same subject to help determine what new material to cover. During the course of her reading, she came upon a chapter in a major text by Dr. Chris Long, a departmental chair at a leading medical school that contained long passages from her previous chapter without attribution.

Dr. Charles called Dr. Long and confronted him with her finding. At first, he vehemently denied having used any of Dr. Charles’s text inappropriately. Dr. Charles then faxed Dr. Long copies of the offending passages. After some delay, Dr. Long finally responded, acknowledging that the language was indeed remarkably similar. Dr. Long noted that he had engaged younger members of his research group to write portions of the chapter because he was very busy at the time that the deadline was approaching. Furthermore, to defend himself, he pointed out that much of the original research on which her chapter was based was derived from the work of his laboratory. He admitted only to negligence in not adequately monitoring the activities of his subordinates.

Dr. Charles replied that the subordinates were not acknowledged in Dr. Long’s chapter either, and that admission of plagiarism required more than a apology. She indicated her intention to report the matter to Dr. Long’s dean and the editor of the text.

Questions

  • Did Dr. Charles act appropriately? Would you have done anything differently? Considering the difference in status between herself and Dr. Long, was she taking a professional risk?
  • Did Dr. Long do anything wrong? What if he were copying his own revious writings?
  • How would you have handled this matter if you were Dr. Long and were confronted with Dr. Charles’s revelations?
  • If you were Dr. Long’s dean, how would you handle Dr. Charles’s letter, which contained copies of the plagiarized texts?
  • Upon hearing Dr. Charles ’s complaint, what would you do as editor of Dr. Long’s textbook?

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Case B7

Maurice LaCroix, a postdoctoral fellow at a research-intensive medical school, was asked by faculty member Dr. Frank Hardy to co-author an in-depth review article on hemolytic anemias for a leading medical journal. Publishing this chapter was important for Maurice because it would establish his credibility in the field and give him professional exposure. Maurice felt that preparation of this chapter would be easy because he would be referring substantially to his own recent research and to that of Dr. Hardy’s laboratory. He had all the data and papers on disk.

Shortly after the issue appeared, Dr. Hardy was called by Dr. John Barrett, a colleague and co-author on many papers that Maurice and Dr. Hardy previously published jointly. "You plagiarized me," he said. "You have no right to extract whole passages from our papers without quotation marks, even if you did reference the papers in the text. It’s as though my contribution never existed. You should have specifically acknowledged the directly quoted text or made me a co-author of the review. Besides, you need permission from the publisher to reprint material verbatim."

Maurice was shocked when he heard this. He looked back at the review and papers and found that he indeed had utilized whole sentences from the papers and one whole paragraph describing the methods. However, although the three individuals had collaborated, it was Maurice who actually wrote the sections in question and who submitted the papers in which they were contained. In addition, he had been the senior author on two of the key papers.

Maurice called Dr. Barrett to apologize and indicated that there are only so many ways to say the same thing. Unmollified, Dr. Barrett said that he planned to call the editor of the journal and inform him of the plagiarism.

Questions

  • Was Dr. Barrett’s complaint legitimate?
  • Do you believe Maurice’s actions constituted plagiarism?
  • To what extent were Maurice and Dr. Hardy each responsible for the contents of the chapter? Could Dr. Hardy be partly responsible for the situation that developed?
  • Assume that Dr. Hardy brought the matter to the attention of the medical school dean. If you were the dean how would you handle it? If Maurice admitted to inadvertent plagiarism, what kind of sanctions would you, as dean, be inclined to consider?
  • If you were the journal editor and received a letter from Dr. Barrett describing the situation given in the case, what would you do?
  • Dr. Barrett asked Dr. Hardy to rectify the situation. What would you suggest?

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A Case for Plagiarism

May is a second-year graduate student preparing the written portion of her qualifying exam. She incorporates whole sentences and paragraphs verbatim from several published papers. She does not use quotation marks, but the sources are suggested by statements like "(see . . . for more details)." The faculty on the qualifying exam committee note inconsistencies in the writing styles of different paragraphs of the text and check the sources, uncovering May’s plagiarism.

After discussion with the faculty, May’s plagiarism is brought to the attention of the dean of the graduate school, whose responsibility it is to review such incidents. The graduate school regulations state that "plagiarism, that is, the failure in a dissertation, essay, or other written exercise to acknowledge ideas, research or language taken from others" is specifically prohibited. The dean expels May from the program with the stipulation that she can reapply for the next academic year.

Questions

  • Is plagiarism like this a common practice?
  • Are there circumstances that should have led to May’s being forgiven for plagiarizing?
  • Should May be allowed to reapply to the program?

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Information Resources

Web Sites

  • University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research, Research and Sponsored Projects website:
    http://orsp.umich.edu/

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References

  1. Martin, H. C., R. M. Ohmann and J. Wheatley. 1969. The logic and rhetoric of Exposition. 3rd Ed. (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, N.Y.)
  2. Kock, N. 1999. A case of Academic Plagiarism. Communications of the ACM, 42:96-104.
    "What's to stop someone-desperate to fulfill a publishing quota-from copying an article posted on a publicly available webpage repackaging it under another byline, and resubmitting it to another journal? "
  3. American Association of University Professors. "Statement on Plagiarism." Academe, Vol. 75, No. 5 (September/October 1989), pp. 47-48.
    The AAUP, a major voice for university faculty, defines plagiarism in this page and a half statement as "taking over the ideas, methods, or written words of another, without acknowledgment and with the intention that they be taken as the work of the deceiver." The statement also outlines the precepts of faculty responsibility to address plagiarism.
  4. Griffin, G. C., M.D. "Don’t Plagiarize—Even Yourself!" (editorial) Postgraduate Medicine, Vol. 89, No. 4 (March 1991), pp. 15-16.
    By way of anecdote, this editorial alerts the reader to the problem of copying from one ’s own written works. Among other reasons not to engage in the practice, the reader is alerted to the fact that prior published materials generally do not belong to the author, but instead to the publishing house that holds the copyright.
  5. Salazar, M. K., Ed.D. "Using the Words and Works of Others: A Commentary." Research Corner, AAOHN Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1 (January 1993), pp. 46-49.
    This article discusses what actions may constitute plagiarism and why plagiarism may occur. Guidelines for proper referencing, adapted from Markham, are provided.

    For discussions of plagiarism in non-scientific areas see:
  6. Fruman, N. The Damaged Archangel.
    A documentation and discussion of the worst plagiarist and one of the greatest poets of the 19th century, Coleridge.
  7. Venuti, L.. The awful crime of I.U. Tarchetti: Plagiarism as propaganda. In N.Y. Times Book Review; Aug.23, 1992, page 7.
    A discussion of unattributed translation as plagiarism.

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