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[ Industry trends ] November 23, 2022

Meet the new faces of plagiarism

Technology has given rise to a new age of information explosion, as the volume of research output continues to expand. While emerging digital tools have made it easier to share and access research, these same tools have also made it much easier to plagiarize scholarly content. Learn how we can combat plagiarism through collaboration and early-stage research.

What is plagiarism?

Knowledge-building is a vital element of the scientific process. Researchers need to learn from one another’s observations, ideas, and mistakes in order to create a more integrated scholarly ecosystem.

But there’s a fine line between inspiration and theft. Scientific work becomes plagiarism when researchers incorporate another author’s work into their own without attributing credit where it’s due. The consequences can be dire for both the victim, who may be helpless to stop such action, and the plagiarizer, who risks their career, their reputation, and legal costs. Even further, plagiarism scandals also negatively affect the publishers and institutions involved, forcing them to conduct expensive investigations or make costly retractions and partake in damage control. 

In all, plagiarism disturbs the flow of scientific information and progress. Once exposed by the media, these scandals also impact the public’s trust in science.

 

What does plagiarism look like?

Plagiarism is not always verbatim or fully copying and pasting someone else’s words. In many cases, plagiarists borrow from many different publications and paraphrase in order to make it harder for peer reviewers to recognize stolen ideas.

As technological advancements in scholarly communications gave rise to more plagiarism cases, new tools are emerging to combat this misconduct and make plagiarism easier to detect. But, in response, plagiarists have also developed new ways to skirt around anti-plagiarism detection software and use tactics that help to disguise their theft.

 

Tortured phrases

In 2021, a group of computer scientists unknowingly became “research-integrity sleuths.” As explored in this Springer Nature article, these scientists were puzzled by the use of strange terms in research papers in place of more commonplace phrases. For example, researchers were using the term “colossal information” instead of “big data” and “counterfeit consciousness” in place of “artificial intelligence.” The computer scientists ran a search for several of these tortured phrases and found instances of this strange wording in hundreds of journals, along with evidence of plagiarism. They concluded that the authors most likely used software that rewrites existing text in order to disguise intellectual property theft.

 

Translation plagiarism

Similar to tortured phrases, translation plagiarism is when published research in another language is translated and presented as one’s original work. In 2020, the Russian Academy of Sciences (SAS) released the results of an investigation that explored translation plagiarism from Russian sources. The study found 259 papers with evidence of translation plagiarism from Russian into English in predatory journals. A combination of predatory journals’ lack of rigorous evaluation methods and the fact that anti-plagiarism detection software does not identify plagiarism across linguistic barriers makes this phenomenon even more insidious and dangerous.

 

Self-plagiarism

Earlier this year, Paul McCrory, a prominent sports concussion researcher, resigned from his position within the Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) due to allegations of plagiarism, which he attributed to human error. Yet, data analyst Nick Brown found 10 examples of further evidence of McCrory’s plagiarism, including the recycling of his own work. 

Self-plagiarism may seem harmless, but it’s still dishonest and fraudulent behavior. It can be even harder to detect when authors recycle their old ideas instead of previously used wording. Overall, inflating one’s publication record by presenting old ideas as new both disrupts and distorts the academic record and scientific progress as a whole.

 

How do we encourage plagiarism? How can we change?

Could it be possible that the academic community unknowingly encourages the same practices that are harming it?

While it’s easy to attribute plagiarism to a few bad actors, in order to combat this phenomenon, we first have to acknowledge that it’s not that simple. The pressure to publish is mounting, and it’s leading scientists to sacrifice quantity over quality. The moment we embrace collaboration instead of competition and welcome digital transformation earlier in the research lifecycle, these rogue practices will both diminish and become easier to uncover. When we work together to achieve great things, the pressure shifts from publishing more to making new discoveries, together.

 

Conclusion

At Morressier, we recognize the value of early-stage research rather than solely focusing on final published outputs. We embed robust integrity checks into our platform that warn our clients and partners about potential issues with their community’s research, like plagiarism, much earlier than in the traditional publishing process. We also use digital tools like user profiles and networking solutions to create exciting early-stage collaboration opportunities for society members and conference attendees. 

This kind of preliminary and collaborative thinking can and will transform our scholarly system.

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