Plagiarism and punishment

lobachevsky.jpg  The following editorial and commentary were published in the November 10 issue of BMJ. [Full text is available free online.] (I can never hear the word plagiarize without thinking of Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky.)
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Godlee F. Plagiarism and punishment [editorial]. BMJ  2007;335
Extract: Plagiarism is one of the three high crimes of research fraud. The US Office for Research Integrity (ORI) puts it up there with the big boys, fabrication and falsification, in its definition of research misconduct ( Some have argued that the definition should extend to lesser crimes such as undeclared conflict of interest and duplicate publication, but to my knowledge no one has questioned that theft of another person’s work is fraud.

How big a problem is plagiarism? The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) lists 18 cases of alleged plagiarism reviewed from 1998 to 2005 (, but as with research fraud generally this is likely to be a substantial underestimate of the true extent. Detection has been difficult in the past, but the internet, which has made plagiarism much easier to commit, is also making it easier to detect, as Michael Cross explains …

Cross M. Policing plagiarism. BMJ  2007;335:963-964 

In the internet age, copying someone else’s work can be as simple as clicking and dragging a computer mouse over a few plausible paragraphs. By the same token, the world wide web makes fraud easy to detect. Over the past decade, a range of software products has become available for detecting plagiarism, especially by students. However, experts are questioning whether Britain’s strategy for detecting academic fraud is the right one for catching the most damaging types of misconduct.

There is no evidence that plagiarism is becoming more prevalent in research. But there is no doubt that plagiarism happens, perhaps because of mindsets acquired in education.1 The Committee on Publication Ethics, an international forum for editors of peer reviewed journals, has discussed “30 or 40” alleged cases of research plagiarism over the past 10 years, says its chairman, Harvey Marcovitch.
Sections: Defining plagiarism; Relying on a single tool; Alternative tools; Bespoke work

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