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EDITORIAL
Year : 2006  |  Volume : 54  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 75-76

The scourge of plagiarism


Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, P. D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Veer Savarkar Marg, Mahim, Mumbai - 400 016, India

Correspondence Address:
Barun K Nayak
P. D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Veer Savarkar Marg, Mahim, Mumbai 400 016
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0301-4738.25825

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How to cite this article:
Nayak BK, Maniar R. The scourge of plagiarism. Indian J Ophthalmol 2006;54:75-6

How to cite this URL:
Nayak BK, Maniar R. The scourge of plagiarism. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 Jun 3];54:75-6. Available from: http://www.ijo.in/text.asp?2006/54/2/75/25825

In academic publishing, falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism by the author are treated as severe misconduct.[1] Probably most of us would not have known Kaavya Viswanathan, had she not been accused of plagiarism in her recently published book, titled "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life". You may recall that this book had fetched her royalty of a whopping half a million US$ by the publishers. It is pertinent to note that in keeping with accepted norms, the publishers have subsequently withdrawn the book.[2] Plagiarism is not as uncommon as one thinks. A PubMed search using 'Plagiarism' as a keyword yielded 442 references, out of which, 156 references had the word plagiarism in the title.

What is plagiarism? It is the noun of the verb "to plagiarize". Webster's dictionary describes it as " to take without referencing from someone else's writing or speech; of intellectual property". As per the Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE) Report 1999,[1] Plagiarism ranges from the unreferenced use of other's published and unpublished ideas (including research grant applications), to submission under "new" authorship, of a complete paper, sometimes in a different language. It may occur at any stage of planning, research, writing, or publication. It applies equally to print and electronic versions . However, except in cases of overt plagiarism, the charge of illegal use is very difficult to determine and prove, as it involves ethical and moral issues. These issues often do not have an objective yardstick, and therefore, the interpretation of plagiarism differs from person to person. While people and institutions may have differing views on the interpretation of plagiarism, in essence, claiming something that is not yours is considered plagiarism.

Plagiarism has many nuances and dimensions. Can a manuscript which is never published, be open to the charge of plagiarism? According to Parmley,[3] when a published article or chapter is used as a starting point to prepare a fresh manuscript and even if it does not get published, it would also come under the ambit of plagiarism. Another aspect of plagiarism is self-plagiarism. This needs to be understood by the author, especially in cases where a huge amount of data has been gathered, or in cases of extensive research involving more than one research question. Such situations invariably culminate in more than one paper. Many authors lift the introduction section in the subsequent papers from the previous paper, without citing the previous work. This is self-plagiarism, and is unethical.[4] Self-plagiarism is also another form of duplicate publication. Most of us indulge in plagiarism, maybe unknowingly, when we prepare a PowerPoint presentation by downloading material from the web, without acknowledging the source .[5]

Why do authors plagiarize? In the modern era, there is a constant pressure to publish, both as an avenue for promotion, as well as to earn instant name and fame. Most of us fail to resist the temptation of copying from the web, where data is easily available. The "publish-or-perish" mentality acts as a stimulus to adopt a "cut-n-paste policy", which in turn leads to the "plagiarize-n-publish" conduct.

Plagiarism must be considered worse than mere theft.[6] It is a less clever act on the part of the thief since the stolen material is not concealed, rather displayed to the world as his own. Detection of plagiarism is difficult, and is often accidental. The discovery usually occurs long after publication of the article. It is more difficult if the journal is available only in the print form, more so, if it is not indexed. In case of journals available on the net, if free full text is not accessible, then exposure is fortuitous. At times a reviewer may detect the theft by chance during the peer review process. In theory, there are some software programs that can detect the extent of plagiarism in an article. However, it is not practical to screen all submitted articles for logistic reasons of time and manpower cost. Logically therefore, prevention of plagiarism is the better option. It has been found that warning authors against plagiarism does not always work as a deterrent, whereas announcement of the use of plagiarism detection software does produce a discernable deterrent effect.[7]

What should be done when plagiarism is detected? The Editorial Board faces a very challenging task whenever any case of plagiarism is reported. They have to verify the facts first. If convinced that plagiarism has indeed occurred, they have to correspond with the concerned authors and await their response. Whenever a charge of plagiarism is made against any author, there is a very predictable response. The reactions can be categorized into four stages - silence, denial, evasion, and rationalization, in that order.[8] The author always pleads ignorance and tries to rationalize his misconduct.. It is worth noting that the phase of acceptance does not come anywhere in the above four stages, even if the plagiarism is proved beyond doubt. Redressal of the issue takes a great deal of time. It becomes very difficult to draw a line between purported inspiration and plagiarism.

Co-authors too are equally culpable, and cannot shrug off their responsibilities on basis of their status as co-authors. At times, a junior author may plagiarize an article and gift the authorship to his senior, who generally accepts such authorship readily. The temptation of adding laurels to one's name is so strong, that these seniors turn a blind eye to the dangers and consequences of such unprofessional behavior. It is only when such misconduct is detected, that repentance sets in.

COPE Report of 1999 recommends the following action to be taken, once the offence of plagiarism is established. These can be applied separately or in combination.[1]

1. A letter of explanation (and education) to the authors, where there appears to be a genuine misunderstanding of principles.

2. A letter of reprimand and warning as to future conduct.

3. A formal letter to the relevant head of the institution or funding body.

4. Publication of a notice of redundant publication or plagiarism.

5. An editorial giving full details of the misconduct.

6. Refusal to accept future submissions from the individual, unit, or institution responsible for the misconduct, for a stated period.

7. Formal withdrawal or retraction of the paper from the scientific literature, informing other editors and the indexing authorities.

8. Reporting the case to the General Medical Council or other such authority or organization, which can investigate and act with due process.

Scientific thought needs to advance incessantly. We all realize that the ethos of scientific research is the backbone of this progress. Publications will and have to continue. There is however, no justification for adopting an unethical route for the same. Plagiarism, when detected, is liable to bring down the author's reputation and ego like a pack of cards.

Just as we suppress the thought of death from our psyche, even though we are well aware that after birth, death is the only certainty, so also the plagiarizing author believes that he will never be caught. However, truth has a funny habit of popping out of the bag at inconvenient times. One has to realize that plagiarism might be detected one day or another leading to professional hara-kiri. So the best policy is to refrain from taking the risky shortcut route of plagiarism for publication.



Notice of retraction

There was a complaint by Gail M Seigel, Ph.D, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Department of Ophthalmology, Physiology & Biophysics, University of Buffalo, New York and a subsequent complaint by Peter AD Rubin, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Digital Journal of Ophthalmology (www.djo.harvard.edu), that the article entitled." The Enigma of Lenticular Oncology" by Seigel GM and Kummer AE, which was published in 2002 in the Digital Journal of Ophthalmology was plagiarized and published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology in December 2003, Vol.51, pgs 297-301 under the title of "The Conundrum of Lenticular Oncology- a Review" by Chaturvedi Sunil, Mittal Sanjeev, Bahadur Harsh and Mehrotra Amar Nath of Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences, India.

The case was examined by a sub-committee. Based on the facts and findings of the same, the editorial board of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology was convinced that the article in question published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology amounts to overt plagiarism. The editorial board therefore has decided to retract the article and the same stands retracted. The editorial board of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology has also decided to place a ban on accepting any communication for publication by all the authors of the above retracted article till further notice. The matter has been referred to the office bearers sub-committee/ Ethics committee of All India Ophthalmological Society for any further action, if required.

Barun K Nayak

Editor




 
  References Top

1.
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). Guidelines on good publication practice://www.publicationethics.org.uk/reports/1999/index_html [accessed 29th May, 2006].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaavya_Viswanathan [accessed 29th May, 2006]  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Parmley WW. Plagiarism-How serious is it? J Am Coll Cardiol 2000;36:953-4.  Back to cited text no. 3
[PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  
4.
Lowe Nancy K, Publication Ethics: Copyright and Self-Plagiarism. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs 2003;32:145-6.   Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Balaram P. Plagiarism: A Spreading Infection. Curr Sci 2005:88:1353-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Maddox J. Plagiarism is worse than mere theft. Nature 1995;376:721.  Back to cited text no. 6
[PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  
7.
Braumoeller B, Gaines B. Actions Do Speak Louder than Words: Deterring Plagiarism with the Use of Plagiarism-Detection Software; American Political Science Association Online; http://www.apsanet.org/imgtest/PSDec01BraumoellerGaines [accessed 29th May, 2006]  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Sapatnekar SM. Plagiarism. J Assoc Physic India 2004;52:527-30.  Back to cited text no. 8
[PUBMED]    



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