Plagiarism by Academics

While there are some notable examples of extensive plagiarism by academics, the journal Science has the results of how extensive it is and the excuses. One point of this article is that plagiarism has gone up as the cost of copying text with cutting and pasting on computers has gone down. I guess that this could be called the economics of plagiarism.

At least these guys seem to frequently be sincerely sorry unlike some others.

In a report in the current journal Science, his team lists excuses offered by "potential" plagiarists, authors of studies in which the text was, on average, 86.2% similar to previously-published work. Last year, the same team reported in Nature that a sample of the federal government's PubMed database of studies suggests about 1 in 200 papers is plagiarized.

"Over time, the responses just got crazier and crazier," says Tara Long, Garner's colleague at Texas Southwestern. "There's every excuse in the book, from 'my hard drive crashed' to 'the other guy did it.' "

The team used a computer program they wrote called "eTBLAST" (available online) to detect about 9,000 suspicious duplicates from PubMed. The team then sent out 163 questionnaires to potential plagiarists and authors of copied works on the list, and to editors of the journals that published the studies. They received 144 replies. . . . .

A survey in Naturelast June led by Sandra Titus of the federal Office of Research Integrity, which polices federally-funded research, found about 3% of researchers observed scientific misconduct each year, largely faked data but also plagiarism. High-profile cases, such as stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-Suk's faked data or the Bell Lab's prodigy Jan Hendrik Schön's discredited results, have rocked science labs in the last decade.

"Although our numbers can sound like a lot, you have to remember there are 18 million papers in PubMed and more than 95% of studies are painstakingly high-quality efforts," Garner says. "We just need the culture of science to have the same high standards everywhere."

Some potential plagiarists' responses to the questionnaire (from Science):

•" I was not aware of the fact I am required to take such permission."

•"There are probably only 'x' amount of word combinations that could lead to 'y' amount of statements. ... I have no idea why the pieces are similar, except that I am sure I do not have a good enough memory —and it is certainly not photographic — to have allowed me to have 'copied' his piece .... I did in fact review (the earlier article) for whatever journal it was published in."

•"I know my careless mistake resulted in a severe ethical issue. I am really disappointed with myself as a researcher."

Labels: ,


Blogger TYF said...

Interesting that while technology has made it easier to plagerize, it's also made it easier to detect and catch those who engage in it.

3/09/2009 6:41 PM  
Blogger Martin G. Schalz said...

Your post disturbs me greatly on many a different level, Dr. Lott.

Let us suppose for a moment, that I use your work for a book. I cut and paste your words, data, and observations.

If I give you credit, which is to say that I take care to mention that you are the source of said words, data, and observations, and then I provide proofs to support, or deny your observations or facts, is this not peer review? Is this, my method not the way it is supposed to be done?

In my opinion, what we have here, is a change in society itself, which has been brought about by many changes not only in technology, but in the shift from pure academics to rhetoric.

The United States has experienced a very radical change in society as a result of the 'Baby Boom'. This type of change has been seen in many a world scenario whereupon a country or culture has experienced a great upsurge in births over a short period of time.

Islamic Extremisim is the latest example that comes to my mind here.

Let us suppose for a moment that youth numbers far surpass those of the previous generation. Could it be that the economics, social pressures, and ideology of such a large influx of younger folks partially destroy the foundations of the previous generation?

What if there are those who wish to harness the momentum of the youth in this situation in order to further their own personal agenda?

One must wonder exactly how many years does it take for the aforementioned to occur...

Old School vs New School.

Tech has replaced hard work when it comes to originality. G. W. Bush used simple paper to keep track, whereas BHO cannot think on his feet, and that is ok by many?

As you so noted Dr. Lott, this would have resulted in G. W. Bush being crucified by the press, yet BHO gets away with it. Academia has followed suit so it seems.

Groupthink has it's grip on youth, politicians, academia, and many others.

Afterall, does it not feed upon itself?

Last but not least, I am so glad that my teleprompter is working right now. I cannot imagine that I would have been capable of writing this post without it!!! Hell, it might have killed me if I had to actually think for myself for a change.

3/09/2009 6:41 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thanks, TYF, that is an excellent point. You would think that the biggest change has occurred in being able to catch the plagiarist, but yet plagiarism has increased. Possibly it is Martin's point about changing morals, one has to explain why that has changed and I can't do that right now. Thanks.

3/09/2009 8:50 PM  
Blogger The Right Guy said...

When I got my master's degree in 2007, we used a program to detect plagiarism. You uploaded your word document and it checked it and you downloaded it with comments. I never had more than 1% and that was usually spurious. What about famous cases like Doris Kearns Goodwin or Ted Kennedy? Those come to mind immediately. In the former case, she was making money off her book, no?

3/09/2009 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3/10/2009 3:10 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...


If you have some evidence that I have engaged in plagiarism, please provide it here.

3/10/2009 4:07 AM  
Blogger Martin G. Schalz said...

"Possibly it is Martin's point about changing morals, one has to explain why that has changed and I can't do that right now. Thanks."

With the above in mind, I wish to expand on my theory.

Let us suppose for a moment, that I may be correct about birthrates being inversely proportional to time when we attempt to explain a radical change in societal values. In this case, morals.

Ok, so inversely may not be absolutely correct in the fashion in which I use the term. Then again, maybe it is.

At any rate, I used the term years to explain a change in society.

I wish to amend the above, and apply Moore's Law here. Just not in the terms of every two years or so, but in terms of generations. This is somewhat misleading as one can say that a generation is every twenty years.

However, it is true that society is ever evolving, and I must point out that our children are influenced by those whom are slightly older than they. After all, did not we as children ourselves, express our age as 9 and one half years old, rather than just nine?

We wanted to portray ourselves as older, because we could not wait to be adults. In doing so, we aped our older siblings, or those who were a few years older than we were.

Ever evolving we are, no?

If in fact there is a correlation between a decline in morals (morals being darn difficult to define here, seeing as how that is a highly subjective quality), and a rapidly expanding population, would not the data show that?

Perhaps plagarism itself might support my theory. Then again I would have to input tech into the algorithm to be really sure...

3/10/2009 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You made a post that is related to unethical behavior. I cited unethical behavior in which you have engaged. Unsurprisingly, you deleted the evidence I offered. I don't know what more you want beside to close your eyes, cover your ears, and yell until everyone stops calling you out for your constant dishonesty.

3/11/2009 2:12 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear ignoringscience:

You call people names and claim that they are dishonest, and you then get upset that your inaccurate posts are removed. (note I left it up that you had made a post.) If you had tried to read this blog or other posts, you would know the problems with the source that you tried to cite. If you have something new to add to the discussion, fine. If you have to repeat already discredited sources, I am not going to take more time to go through those old debates again.

3/11/2009 11:37 AM  
Blogger Martin G. Schalz said...

forthesakeofignorance's Moral Compass is surely broken, Dr. Lott.

'What ironic criticism' indeed.

Methinks that forthesakeofignorance is none other than Al Gore!

Same modus operandi, eh?

Is not cutting and pasting a web addy and passing it off as proof of one's intellect a form of plagiarism?

I would be impressed by an actual attempt to present an argument complete with original proofs, but to leave a web addy with nothing more than a snide remark does show one's ignorance.

3/11/2009 6:18 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thanks, Martin.

3/11/2009 6:21 PM  
Blogger The Right Guy said...

For The Sake of Clarity:
What exactly is Mr. Lott being dishonest about? The worst you could argue his positions are a priori, but whose positions are not? I would make a bet that Mr. Lott would be unemployable in the academic community if what you say is true, and that is not the case.

3/11/2009 6:49 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home