The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) hosted a panel of three experts at their Annual Conference in the Fall of 2013 to discuss plagiarism in medical research, titled "The Rising Tide of Plagiarism in Medical Research". Panel members included Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, Jason Chu from Plagiarism.org and Sandra R. Distelhorst, ELS, Senior Editor at Northwest Health Communications.
Together the panelists provided insights that raise awareness of various plagiarism issues, offered best practices to help researchers and writers avoid plagiarism, and suggested ways for editors and journal management to prevent plagiarism. Examples mentioned during this session may be found in a related paper published by iThenticate.
JONATHAN: Today’s session is the Rising Tide of Plagiarism in Medical Writing. My name is Jonathan Bailey. I'm from the blog Plagiarism Today; plagiarismtoday.com, and I also I am a copyright and plagiarism consultant. I've doing that for about eight years now. To my left, we have Sandra Distelhorst. She is the senior editor and medical writer of Northwest Health Communications, and she’s also the publications editor of the Breast Health Global Initiative Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. To my more immediate left is Jason Chu. He is the education director at plagiarism.org. He’s been there since 2011 and is very active in teaching and doing research about plagiarism related issues.
Real fast, I want to take a quick survey of the room. I know we’re at a medical writer’s convention. How many of you are actively working as medical writers right now?
Q: What about editors? Are you going to do that too?
JONATHAN: I was going to do editors second and you can be more than one. It’s possible to be more than one. So how many are also and/or editors? Whenever I do these talks like this in front of various organizations I always feel a bit like I'm picking on that organization, like I'm picking on that style of writing. I want to make it clear, you're not alone. But especially the part of this presentation I'm giving, I could go to just about any writing organization in the entire world and give almost the exact same talk with only a few minor tweaks. Believe me; plagiarism is on the rise everywhere. Schools, every single study, every single survey I have found that has shown that it is on the rise. At least students are more readily admitting to it. Maybe they're not apt to doing it more, but every survey seems to indicate they're doing it more. Poetry and literature, I don't know how many of you are into poetry. But two major poetry prizes were just revoked on the grounds of plagiarism because nothing says speaking from the soul quite like copying someone else’s words.
Journalism last year had its Summer of Sin, as Craig Silverman at Poynter called it. Everyone probably heard about Jonah Lehrer, and something like dozens and dozens of works got fired from every publication that would ever have him, and is currently—he’s actually still trying to make a rebound towards slightly publishing book that I am pitying the editor of that book whenever it’s ready for publication. I do not envy that person. There was about a dozen other major plagiarism incidents in journals, in newspapers and news organizations across the country, across world. And truth be told again, 2013’s summer wasn’t any better. We just didn't have a Jonah Lehrer with which to hinge the whole operation and sort of create a narrative around.
Other fields of research go anywhere. Other fields if scientific or academic writing, you're applying very similar issues. There's actually been a couple of scandals involving plagiarism in video games. It is absolutely stunning how many games for the iPhone or Android devices are actually plagiarisms and direct rip-offs from mainstream games. Movies have also been having this issue, in particular in Bollywood in India. And of course just to be topical, the most recent ordeal, the senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, has found himself in a bit of a plagiarism. How many people have heard about this? Okay, for those who didn't know, it started with Rachel Maddow. She found evidence that one of his speeches had plagiarized a few hundred words from Wikipedia, of all—because if you're going to plagiarize you go for broke, right?
And then of course is inevitable with this, other people start digging in. They found another speech he plagiarized from Wikipedia; at all times actually plagiarizing the plots of movies. He was referencing movies. He cited the movie, but plagiarized verbatim from Wikipedia because, you know, like I said, why not go for broke. And his initial reaction was to say, well, I didn't plagiarize; I cited the movies, completely oblivious to the fact that we're not talking about the movies. We're talking about the hundreds of words of verbatim text from Wikipedia. And then after more allegations came about, one involving OpEd in the Washington Times and other involving his book, and also the text in the book appeared in some kind of testimony he did too. He then won’t say he wanted quote/unquote “duel all of the people that were making plagiarism accusations” against him. Because busting a cap into someone is the correct response of plagiarism.
So yeah, that didn't go over well. He has, however, since apologized, shown a little contriteness and has said that he is quote/unquote “restructuring his staff to make sure these things do not happen again.” I'm not exactly sure what restructuring is. Apparently in this case his staff must be a next of kin or something. I have no idea. Long story short, just showing though that plagiarism is on the rise as a growing problem for absolutely every field imagined. But there can be plagiarism. It is increasing. Please do not feel that this talk, any talk about plagiarism in medical writing community is picking on you guys. You are not alone, believe me.
So why are the causes increasing? Well, there aren’t actually many, but three of the causes that seem to be coming about—the most common are, one, it’s easier to plagiarize than ever. If you wind the clock back say 25 to 30 years, plagiarism was hard work. You had to put effort into ripping off people’s content. You had to go to the library or go to somewhere, find it, retype it, place your name on it, and then by the time you got done with all of that it was probably easier just to paraphrase it and cite it and make it a legitimate work. Now that the internet—I mean probably the greatest invention for the plagiarist was copy/past, control seek/control V; and that actually was invented 25 years ago. I believe it was 25 years ago this month. So think about it in putting that in some perspective. Of course the internet made it much easier than ever to find information. Long story short, it’s gotten worse and worse and worse.
The other is greater pressure to publish. This is true across all fields. I've talked about Rand Paul. Think of all the pressure politicians are under today to put out content. It’s not just enough to prepare some speeches and some testimony for various committees. You have to have a web page, a Facebook, a blog, a Tumblr. You’ve got to have all these things. You’ve got to have books and OpEd and all this. It’s true everywhere. People due to the internet have pressure to put more and more content. In a medical writer community we're all familiar with the pressure to publish, the pressure to get more papers in print, and get more work out there to get those grants, secure that funding, to do more and more and more and more. It’s kind of a self-beating cycle. As people are pressured to do more, that creates a cycle to pressure to do more because everyone has to compete. Everyone has to be in top tier. And the other thing that's changed is the internationalization of publication.
Sandra and I were talking just a little bit before the show about how this idea of English as a second language in plagiarism was a relatively recent phenomenon. Previously if you were in another country you were probably publishing a local journal and that’d be the end of it. Now whether that got read anywhere relevant is a separate issue. But with the internet, with digitization, we are seeing greater internationalization of publication. People are being pressured more and more not to just to publish, but to publish in English because that’s kind of the accepted norm for language, so yeah. Long story short, there are definitely an increased pressure to publish and an increased pressure to publish specifically in English. I've got to get my notes, I'm without my laptop. I had to go to sleep right before that slot, or—yeah.
So long story short, I wanted to talk about, switch gears to the actual medical plagiarism. And who in here is familiar with this case in anesthesia—an analgesia case? For those who haven't heard about it, I will recount it very, very quickly. The December 2010 issue of the Journal, there was a note. A paper was retracted due to the editor discovering plagiarism. That paper was the Effect of Celiac Plexus Block in Critically Ill Patients Intolerant of Enteral Nutrition; A Randomized Placebo Controlled Study, going back to that whole medical writers love to name things really, really long. And me not being a medical writer, I look at that title and I'm like I know some of those words.
And the others, that's what Google is for. But basically the editors had discovered that paper had been plagiarized from now fewer than five other journal articles, and it was duly retracted. Okay, that's not particularly special. It’s disheartening. It’s sad, but you know, it’s unfortunately somewhat common these days. But what made it interesting, what makes it worthy of a whole slide is that another—in that same editor’s notes there was a request for retraction from an Indian researcher who had discovered plagiarism in an article he had submitted in 2008. He had discovered that another writer, another participant in that study, another participant in that paper, had plagiarized some work and he had requested that it be retracted.
Q: His own paper?
JONATHAN: Yeah, his own paper. He was trying to retract his own paper because another writer, another cohort had plagiarized and he had just found out about it. He was doing the right thing basically is what it comes down to. However, what's interesting is that paper the researcher was trying to retract was one of the five papers the first paper had plagiarized from. Meaning, that first paper was a plagiarism of a plagiarism. We had gone full Maddow, folks. This is the loop is complete.
Q: Was that all in the same journal?
JONATHAN: Yeah, it was all in the same journal. We’ll save that for maybe the aftermath discussion; that would be a good time to talk about that one. But yeah, it was a pretty big blow for the journal. It got a slide, so there you go. But it’s interesting because the problem with medical plagiarism is definitely on the rise. With the help of iThenticate we did an actual medical research paper, which we have some notes that you can—we’ll let you download it here. We’ve got some slips that you can download it from if you want to see the whole thing. But some of the key findings that we found in the mega analysis was that retractions in medical research are way, way up; 10x in 20 years. And for the record, that is actually accounting for the 2x increase in publication. So there's actually a 20-fold increase and there's also a two-fold increase in the number of papers being published. Twenty-five percent of all those retractions are due to plagiarism and duplication, and that percentage is actually increasing. One journal—and that actually only deals with the plagiarism cases—that’s a good slide to get a picture of; I agree.
Q: Yes, I could use this.
Q2: Be sure and cite it.
JONATHAN: Yes. Literally, it’s my job. But that actually only deals with the plagiarism and duplication that gets through to the publication. The only things that can be retracted; we can’t retract something that was rejected. So how many are being rejected? Well, that's something that’s kind of hard to find out as most journals don't make those statistics readily available. However, one journal was kind enough to do so. Cancer Biology and Therapy rejected 108 submissions due to plagiarism in 2012. That is one submission every three days, almost one submission every three days due to plagiarism. That's pretty mind blowing. I mean there’s a lot of reasons why submissions would be rejected, but they have one every three days rejected due to plagiarism. And that’s one plagiarism case open every three days. It’s just a huge burden for journals. That's a huge problem for them.
So what are the costs of this type of plagiarism? One is of course wasted publication space. Publication space is at an all-time high. There is more competition than ever for space in journals. There is a lot of great research hoping to get published, hoping to get selected, and may save the lives of patients. Plagiarism wastes that by repeating needlessly previous research. It also wastes research dollars as we found out in another study that we did. That the US Government literally wasted billions of dollars for funding to do with research and funding plagiarized proposals. The Natural Science Foundation recently found evidence of approved proposals; not just the ones submitted. That’s approved proposals. I believe it was something like 2% contained plagiarized material. It equated to millions and millions of dollars wasted. It resulted in delays in the research being published. Journals had to be very careful not to publish plagiarized material because retractions are way more of a headache than a rejection, and it feeds distrust among the public. Look at what's happened to Senator Paul right now. He’s being chewed alive and there’s public sear because of this. The same thing happens whenever they find that journals and other scientific institutions --
Q: I read that part of his reason is he blamed the messenger.
JONATHAN: Yeah, he did it.
Q: So that's a classic. It’s just like the Mayor of Toronto.
JONATHAN: No, we're not talking about the Mayor of Toronto. I draw the line there. But yeah, basically speaking, it causes distrust among the public and there's a lot of fields, especially like psychiatry and so forth where distrust among the public already is fairly high. And there needs to be an effort to build that trust, and plagiarism hurts that. Already the public doesn't understand enough about research and plagiarism allegations just makes things worse. And then finally, it slows the overall pace of research. Every journal we’ve talked to has said that over time due to the rise of plagiarism and other misconduct, the process of getting from submission to publication has slowed down a lot. In some cases it doubles. And admittedly it’s not just plagiarism. It’s the core of that plagiarism is a big part of it. So having to check and having to deal with this is a huge headache for journals, and it’s keeping research, and keeping good research out of the hands of doctors and physicians that need it. So it’s important that everyone be vigilant about these issues. And to help highlight some of these points, I'm going to turn the podium over to Jason Chu here, who is going to talk about some surveys and study data.
JASON: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you, Jonathan, for framing the issue for us and getting us started in terms of the conversation today. Just a couple of points of clarification here: So first off, my name is Jason Chu. I work for Turnitin. And Turnitin is the owner, if you will, of iThenticate, of Turnitin, and also plagiarism.org. So I wear a couple of different hats. My expertise is really around plagiarism in academic contents. Most of my work is really concerned with working with schools and institutions around best practice strategies really engaging students in thinking about what plagiarism is.
So to that end, what I wanted to do was just to share some survey data that we’ve collected; first off, about student perceptions about plagiarism. I think this is enlightening because if you really want to take sort of a pessimistic view on this, some of the behaviors that you're seeing that are exercised by researchers, if you will, get learned in academic context. So I think it’s a nice way to just sort of draw a lens onto and focus in on some of how these perceptions get cemented in that context. From there I'm going to switch over and talk to some of the survey data that we collect; iThenticate actually collected on editor’s perceptions with regards to plagiarism and misconduct. So I'm going to jump into this first, and feel free to ask questions as we kind of talk about this. What we did was we wanted to really kind of evaluate and take a look from the perspective of our user base, the students that we work with. What are their perceptions and attitudes versus behavior with regards to plagiarism? Of course, this is in keeping with some of the other sort of academic studies that you’ve seen done on plagiarism. Don McCabe, of course, is most noteworthy for this work. He’s done similar work in this space.
So we decided to sort of undertake our own study. Along the same veins, we conducted a survey in 2012. It was an online survey. We had nearly 2000 students complete this survey, and these are students that are mostly undergraduates and graduate students. So what I'm going to show you first are a couple of key findings. So we wanted to get a sense really of how much students—how students thought about things like copying online content, so we asked them. And you’ll see there’s this sort of a bifurcated approach here. We ask the students first what their attitude is, and then we asked them about their behavior, right? Because that's really where you can begin to uncover where practice sort of deviates from actual attitude. So first off, over 60% of respondents rate copying online content without citation as wrong or very wrong, and that’s fantastic. But take a look at that second little table there. So they consider how wrong or offensive this action is. You see that it’s a very high percentage; 38.4% say it’s very wrong, 22.4% say it’s wrong. They consider an act of plagiarism overwhelmingly; over 78% say they consider an act of plagiarism. Yet over a third of students reported copying online content without citation one or more times, look at this. You’ve got between line two, over 25%; three to four times 6%, and then five times or more 4.8%. And of course, we’re asking them to self-record their behavior, right? So we won't know. This is just sort of taking the pulse. We don't know if it’s more or less with regards to how they're responding.
Let’s turn your attention now to purchasing essays. This is a big topic that we're seeing and we're dealing with with all the schools that we work with. We’ve got anecdotal stories coming out from a number of institutions. I’ve talked to a number of professors who are telling me that this is a real big problem now. We actually did a webcast recently. We had David Tomar come and speak. David Tomar is notorious because he is the Shadow Scholar. How many of you saw—you may not have seen this, but there was a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the Shadow Scholar. David Tomar had worked as a custom essay writer. His institution where he graduated was Rutgers, and he worked as a custom essay writer for ten years. During that course of time he wrote three to four thousand papers on behalf of students. Not just undergraduates, graduate students as well. He would actually write PhD doctoral thesis on behalf of students. So he did a webcast with us. He was really insightful. He shared sort of some insights into what motivates students to do this. It is increasing, and not just here. It’s international as well. I have colleagues in the UK who I talk to that tell me that it’s a huge problem for them over there. They have these sites they go on and just sell papers.
So we asked our students on that note how many of them or how they felt about purchasing essays. And over 90% of them said that they considered this to be wrong or very wrong. Yet merely 7% of respondents reported purchasing an essay at least one time to turn in as their own. So talk about learned behavior. Next we turn our attention to collaboration because collaboration, given sort of the environment—the learning environment, that is, in which we’re placing students in now with a strong emphasis on collaborative work, learning how to do teamwork. We wanted to get a sense of well, how does this notion of collaboration get really fuzzy particularly with regards to students taking ownership of their own work. So we asked them what do you think about collaboration, collaborating with other students on an individual basis; is this wrong or offensive? So they said wrong, 12%; very wrong, 19%. How many of these people consider this an act of plagiarism collaborating with other students on an individual assignment; over 30%. Another 40% thought that it was wrong, yet just over a third of the students reported collaborating on an assignment at one time. You can see here that maybe 25% have done this one or two times; 8% three to four times, and then 4.2% five times or more. And of course, when you see stuff like this you think about that case at Harvard, right? That was part of the Summer of Sin what we saw, not just plagiarism and journalism fraud, but also academic content.
JONATHAN: It involved—I believe it was 200 Harvard students.
JASON: Two hundred Harvard students, that’s right. They took an easy course because that easy course apparently had all the information online and they all collaborated on this large scale to collaborate.
JONATHAN: For the record, what got them caught was one of them added an extra space in a number, and that tipped the professors off since so many people had made the same error. It was like 100,000 comas, space, the other zero.
JASON: So they all got caught for that. So I mean this is happening; it’s pervasive. It’s pervasive and I think that one of the challenges that we see when we talk to students about plagiarism and about collaborations, they don't understand the difference because students nowadays, they’re writing on a daily basis, right? They write via Facebook. They write via Twitter. They write via text messages. They're writing on a daily basis and they're sharing on a daily basis. But they don't understand that what you do in your daily practice is different than what you do in the academic context, particularly when you ask students to do research because what's available to them. Jonathan pointed this out, right; pervasive, always on the internet. So there are easy ways in which they can find information. They don't understand what the fine line distinctions are, so it’s an ongoing challenge. We're engaging it. We're working with it.
Let’s turn attention now to sort of what this means of what we're seeing with regards to editors’ perceptions of plagiarism. So this is taking things in a completely different direction. This is another survey that we did. This is on iThenticate, all right? And we have on this little slip here if you want to see sort of more detail around that survey. We’ve got a little slip here with links to it so you can get copies of the survey itself. Well, what we did—and this was back in March. We did a survey of individuals who function in an editorial role. So these could be editors or editorial staff. There were about 120 respondents. We asked them—first let me show just the fields of disciplines. You can see they're largely from the medical or scientific fields. We asked them for their sort of top five threats that they see to integrity of scholarly publishing. You can see under plagiarism, the pressure to publish, score very high in this regard. But given the topic today, and let’s focus in on plagiarism.
With regard to plagiarism, when we asked them what types of plagiarism they see most frequently, you can see your self-plagiarism and blatant plagiarism really come out ahead as the types of plagiarism seen. And of course, Sandra is going to talk a bit more about some of this in a little more detail. With regards to the nature of plagiarism encountered, this was interesting as well. And this sort of highlights sort of what we're seeing in academic context, which is mainly the students, in this case researchers perhaps, are not seeing sort of the differences between accidental and intentional self-plagiarism. There are some blurred lines here so to speak. And it’s interesting because, as a side note here, some institutions are trying to tackle this head-on. McGill University is doing a great job of doing this. They actually have a day, I think they call it Academic Integrity Day, or maybe it’s a week where they have actual graduate students along with faculty come together and then they do case studies, right? So these case studies may involve certain scenarios where you’ve got one graduate student authoring a paper or asked to write a paper, and then he comes off of the project and then someone else takes time; do you include that person as an author in the paper? Do you not include him as the lead author? So they're engaging those topics on a very sort of concrete and detailed basis and they're seeing great effect. They're seeing great results with that because it’s really helping to clarify really, how do you think about how do you provide attribution when it comes to publishing research based work? So that’s an example. You can go to the McGill website and you can look it up; it’s really easy to find.
So let me come back to the survey here. In terms of when asked to sort of respond with regards to what they found to be effective in a way of preventing plagiarism, and this of course self serving, they pointed out plagiarism detection software as a great tool. So those of you who are familiar with iThenticate, iThenticate is one of the services that we offer. What it does is when you submit work into it, what it will do is it will compare—sure, it will compare that content in that paper to content in our databases surfacing for you any instances of matched content. It’s not going to tell you whether or not it’s appropriate; that’s up to you to decide. But what it does is it makes it easier to find those instances of matched content. And that’s actually how all of our services work. So in terms of the content we're comparing it to, papers to, we compare it to a database of internet content. We’ve got an archived database on internet content that has over 35 billion pages of our archived content. We also have relationships with most of the big publishers. So to give you an idea of kind of reach, we cover about 80%, if not more than 80%, of the top 5000 journals involved, and that’s according to impact bracket.
And then we also have a relationship with ProQuest. We see this used a lot in the graduate school context because students or faculty or committees want to see if there are any matches to other dissertations as well.
As a side note here, too, how many of you are familiar with Wheeler? I can't remember his first name, but there was an individual whose name was Wheeler and he faked his way through Harvard, MIT. Have you guys seen this? Yeah, so there's a book that was published not too long ago.
JONATHAN: Adam Wheeler.
JASON: Adam Wheeler, thank you. It came out a little over a year ago.
JONATHAN: Conning Harvard.
JASON: Conning Harvard, that’s right. The name of the book is Conning Harvard. Thank you, Jonathan. Take a look. It’s a fascinating book and it just goes—I mean it was incredible how he was able. Adam Wheeler would do stuff, like he would go to previous college essays that were submitted and he would plagiarize those and then submit it into Harvard. And that’s how he got admitted. He also did the same thing—he also applied for a Fulbright Scholarship and he did the same thing. And he almost made it through. Somebody along the way caught him, but it was astounding just how far he was able to go just by plagiarizing content. And it also was just astonishing to see to what ends he would push to do this. So it wasn’t enough that he got into MIT, he had to go to Harvard. It wasn’t enough to go to Harvard. He had to try to get a Fulbright Scholarship; very interesting study, a very interesting story.
So let me bring this to a close here before I digress too far and just share with you some of these additional resources. So the Rising Tide of Plagiarism and Misconduct in Medical Research, that’s that survey data that I just served up to you. There's a link that I have here and a slide, but it’s also on a slip of paper. So you can take that. It makes it a little bit easier to find that online. And then there’s Decoding Plagiarism Attribution and Research, which is the recent white paper that we just put out. So with that said, I will pass it along to Sandra. And, folks, feel free to ask questions along the way. We’d like to stimulate some conversation here.
Q: I have one. And this isn’t a question, but more a concern that with students in school, that the problem is that in certain respect it’s an artificial environment. One person is writing for one target audience. So it’s not quite writing for a journal for mass distribution either to peers or to public, or writing a poll to the public or a scientific author to a specialized journal that nobody reads. Another concern is that in general with the data, someone mentioned comparison data from ten years ago and adjusted for a relative difference, I mean adjusted for the denominator. But I was wondering about that because before the internet the saying is you can't find a fever if you don't take the temperature. So how do we know what was going on before email, before Google, what the prevalence of plagiarism then was? Just kind of what you mentioned though, a lot more competiveness to detecting plagiarism wasn’t so easy, but I'm just kind of wondering if it was ever possible because almost everything is digitized to go back to 1980. Not that far back, but far back enough before the internet.
JONATHAN: They actually have been going back. We’ve been actually seeing the tractions for works even published in the 1970’s due to plagiarism.
Q: But I'm talking about prevalence.
JONATHAN: Then it might be difficult to get an overall prevalence. But I mean the theory is yes it was more difficult to detect, it was also much more difficult to do in terms of actually executing it. So I mean there is reason to believe that it is both more difficult to detect and less prevalent back then too; so it was probably a little of both.
Q: Just to go back to academic citing, collaboration. When I asked Dad to look over my college essay, comments, perspective—well, nobody else here damn well would ever do such a thing except for me because I did. I think that academic saying when you're writing a paper for a teacher is a bit of a forced problem that it’s different circumstances. And another thing about writing a paper for the teacher, if I learned from other students or I learned from Mom and Dad about better writing, that wouldn't be part of the experience. Not just that the teacher could see, well, you can't write—so that's where I have a problem with the academic plagiarism. But everybody ought to know you don't go to someone else, take it, copy and paste, and put it into your stuff. Don't get any help. I'm in favor of collaboration to get help and to learn more about how to do these things.
SANDRA: I think that’s a good idea. You know, I've used iThenticate. One of the reasons that we went to iThenticate was because one of our senior authors was accused of plagiarism. And what we found was it was incredibly useful as an educational tool. So we basically ran all of the papers that we—as publication editor for Breast Health Initiative Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. We published stuff from actually different journals like cancer in the breasts and we invite people to submit papers to the supplement and then I edit the supplement. So we read all of the papers that were submitted to us through iThenticate and it was very educational for—and we sent the reports to all of the different authors and found that it was a great educational tool and it was also a really good—we worked with a lot of authors from low to middle income countries, as well as high income countries. And it was educational for all of them.
We found different types of plagiarism going on based on who they were. A lot of kind of senior authors tend to deflate self-plagiarized; whereas you had younger authors tended to plagiarize more as kind of a learning device.
JONATHAN: One of the things that comes up a lot and I think we need to do better education or teaching on in general is the line between collaboration and collusion. Like that Harvard case we just mentioned, that was actually people copying and pasting from each other and sharing what one person had written. People were concerting it as answers to other papers. That goes well beyond that what I would call collaboration. And so there has to be more discussion about how to collaborate correctly.
Q: I was just going to say that now they’ve found surveys now that show that they don't think cheating is a bad way to get ahead anymore. It’s sort of the extension.
JASON: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I wanted to say earlier that from an academic context, and you can go—Pew Research did a paper last year, October 2012—November 2012. It was exactly a year ago; How Teens Do Research Online. So they did this survey of 2500, AP as well as national writing project teachers, to get a sense of what they're seeing with regards to how students are thinking about research. And for students really it’s no surprise here, research means search.
JONATHAN: Well, isn’t that just research?
JASON: Exactly. So I mean some of the behaviors that you're seeing is part of sort of what has fundamentally shifted in regards to how students are doing research.
Q: Anyone on the creation side use iThenticate to check their own work and see? And how would a modification process makes it invisible after a while?
JASON: Well, what you can do is you can submit it. They don't get saved into a database. So you don't have to worry about that. You can just run it through and you can do a check. You can look at—what we do in an academic context for students, this is particularly effective, is that they can see a copy of their report and they can better understand how they are using the source material, and to check whether or not it’s an appropriately sourced or not. So that's what we can do. It’s more used in a more formative way than a punitive way. I think that's really the direction they want to go with schools.
Q: One sort of comment in this question. I'm a profesor and what I require my students to do, I don't know if you know about the Yale University plagiarism. They had over a million kids. It’s very intensive plagiarism training.
JASON: I've seen that, yes.
Q: And when they're done it generates a certificate. When anyone starts in our program and they get a certificate.
JASON: That's great.
Q: Some people have problems with it, but I went through and got two questions wrong. But after my students take that lab they tell me they had no idea some things were plagiarism.
JASON: They don't, it’s true.
Q: So it’s turned out to be very useful tool so I require them all to do it. Another question I have, and that might come up when you're talking, is in your surveys do you ever look at the COPE guidelines?
JASON: No. Well, you know what? I can't speak to iThenticate survey because I wasn’t overseeing that. I did oversee the student survey.
Q: She’s looking at pre-COPE and post-COPE and it’s editorial algorithm to learn how to detect plagiarism. And when those guidelines came out the detection of plagiarism skyrocketed. So she’s looking at if the company --
JASON: Oh, that's fantastic.
SANDRA: We actually had a flow chart for COPE.
JONATHAN: That's the other handout.
Q: Okay. Because I thought she’s working with someone at the FDA and I hadn’t worked with it at all. So she started doing more research. I just wondered if when you're doing your research and your survey if you included their algorithm and the results.
JASON: NO, we didn't have this specific question about that. But that makes sense to do it in all surveys.
Q: It’s really very interesting.
JASON: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.
Q: I had a question about the iThenticate plagiarism checker software. Plagiarism is so fascinating because it’s just human behavior and the rise of it, I suspect, is technology identifying it. Have you found that people are adapting their way of plagiarizing due to iThenticate?
JASON: Well, I can't speak to iThenticate because I don't actually work in that front. But it uses the same fundamental software and students do try to cheat the system. And they’ll do some crazy things. They’ll use Cyrillic text. They’ll replace some English text with Cyrillic text.
JONATHAN: The little E that --
JASON: Exactly, but it’s not English. What they’ll also do, which I think is fascinating, and they’re very creative. They’ll take content in English through a general source of material, run it through Google Translate into a different language, and then translate it back with the idea that it will change the text enough that it will evade detection. It doesn't work.
Q: Isn’t actually easier just to write?
JASON: It is. Fundamentally speaking, it’s easier to just write the paper.
JONATHAN: I know a few years ago that it was said that in order to completely evade printed duplication in similar systems, you had to change every third word in something in order to completely evade it. I'm just sitting there thinking dear God, if I had to change every third word in this I would just shoot myself.
Q: So looking at your survey and I'm not trying to be funny, but in asking a question about collaboration. If you took that same question and you asked somebody who works in professional communications, so I'm using that expression in somebody beyond academia. They might look at that and say, well, by collaboration did you actually also ask the question whether or not the person they were working with was a subject matter expert? So, you know, obviously that’s not the case with tiered university students. But I think it’s an interesting way to ask that question from the standpoint that in medical communications, particularly when you're dealing with primary research, there is a standard particularly like with statistics where the expectation is you must definitely collaborate with someone. You write your methodology and then you have them take a look at it and say yeah, that’s the way to go; or no, you might want to use this type of text rather than the text—so I think that question might be answered very differently if you posed it to the people up front.
JONATHAN: Absolutely. And I would also go as far to say that the standard of plagiarism differs on the field you're in and the perspective you're coming from in general. I mean if medical writers were held to the same plagiarism standards as lawyers, great content for everyone. It’d be great.
Q: And that's a very interesting comment. One of the things that you got me thinking about was the fact that if you work in journalism today, and I think this has been around for probably 15 to 20 years. Journalists have the APA liability as part of their style guidelines. We as medical writers, we follow the American Medical Association’s manual itself. So when you see a situation like—yeah, I'm just going to give you one case example. Recently the FDA put out guidance, and still drafts guidance, on responding to unsolicited requests from physicians. So a physician can actually approach a medical device or a drug company and say I have a question about the use of your product; what do you see out in literature? So these questions were usually beyond what is on the labeling of the product. I mean it’s an off-label question. And something that the FDA states in this guidance is in responding to these questions it’s not enough to just provide the requester with an abstract for a study that you're summarizing.
Well, inherent in that statement is that it’s okay to provide them with the abstract for that study. So we can pose this question within my organization, and one of the things that I thought was very interesting in terms of the way that people responded to it, was they said well, you know, the National Library of Medicine copies these abstracts all the time when they index. So again, it’s one of those things where without hiring a team of lawyers, sometimes you really have to think about how you navigate these waters because we're promoting that behavior, I think, in that context when somebody who we hold as a very high authority like the FDA makes such statements in their draft guidance.
JASON: Yes. Actually your point is a good segue into Sandra’s talk. But I wanted to address just one more question in that back room. Yes?
Q: This is really a quick thing. Indiana University plagiarism test, it’s a game all the time. I’ve talked about changing their algorithm fight that game they call Christmas tree. They’ll go in and just do patterns and stuff like that. So they're constantly updating that algorithm to detect and avoid that. And the other thing, this is like the increase in diagnosis of ADD. It’s not that more kids have it. It’s that they’re being discovered. I think that’s one of the big issues with plagiarism, is that it’s always been a problem, but people are looking for it now. So that's an issue that’s been mentioned.
JASON: Yeah, absolutely. And I think part and parcel with that too is we're asking students to do collaborative work, but we're not necessarily defining what collaboration means. So there is a definition problem here from an instructional standpoint. Yes, one more question?
Q: I was just thinking it’s kind of like a case of what the definition of plagiarism is.
JASON: Well, thank you. I'm going to pass it along to Sandra.
SANDRA: Thank you. So I'm going to talk from an editor’s perspective and copy of the definition of his. I wanted to start with the definition of plagiarism that is used in science and medicine. Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit; and this is from the Office of Research and Integrity. But it has to be intentional, knowing, or in reckless disregard, and it has to seriously deviate from community accepted practices within this community. And it includes honest error or differences of opinion. So I think it’s really important to kind of frame how science and medicine is looking at plagiarism.
This definition is used by both the AMA and Council of Science Editors, and many other people when we look at their style guides and their manuals; we refer to the ORI definition. And plagiarism is also just one of three types of scientific misconduct, along with fabrication and falsification. A lot of times people kind of lump those together. I think it’s really important to keep them separate because fabrication and falsification are considered a lot more serious forms of misconduct, and with the idea of intent. That’s kind of impossible to not know that you're faking data. Whereas it seems like a lot of people are really unaware of exactly what plagiarism is and if they're committing it. According to the Council of Science editors, similar words or ideas can be arrived at independently and unconscious plagiarism can also occur where the source may have been lost from prior communication remains. There is still a lot of discussion about what really is plagiarism and what isn’t plagiarism, and so it makes it kind of difficult sometimes to do these statistics.
And then the Committee of Publication Ethics, COPE, which were just talking about. They identified four levels of plagiarism when they were looking at manuscripts and the first one is clear plagiarism, blatant plagiarism. Another one is just minor copy, short phrases only; redundancy, which is like self-plagiarism for them; and then no problem. So when they look at a piece and they're trying to decide if it’s plagiarism, they actually look at the different levels of plagiarism. So it’s not just plagiarism. So I guess we talked about how much of a problem is plagiarism. And we talked about is it rising, it is rising. And I think that one way you can kind of look at it is to look at some case reports the Office of Research Integrity if you go to their website, they review scientific misconduct and they post all their cases. They only have about a dozen cases a year, and one or two are usually involving plagiarism. So that kind of gives you a feel for misconduct. For them, they're looking at plagiarism in grant applications, which occur every year where you have a trusted reviewer who takes ideas and/or exact text and copies them and puts them into their own grant application, or sometimes speakers.
So we also have plagiarism all the time in public articles. Sometimes you’ll find 90% of an article has been plagiarized. The ORI really focuses on kind of the big issues. And there's also some less common cases of plagiarism. Recently in 2002 a senior supervisor was penalized for plagiarism because he approved a student’s paper that included plagiarism and he knew about it, so he actually had some of his funding removed and his position suspended. So plagiarism is a hot topic. People aren’t really sure how to deal with it, but there are different types of cases that are being dealt with in different ways. The typical penalty for plagiarism is suspension from funding for three to seven years. If you look at case reports from COPE, you can go online and they publish their case reports and it’s actually quite interesting because they also publish their editor’s details and responses. In 2012 there were 34 misconduct cases, and six of those were plagiarism. So even though we're talking about this huge rise in plagiarism, when you actually look at those cases that are being looked at seriously and are by these different organizations, it’s not a huge number of cases.
These cases, a lot are self-plagiarism and review articles, original data presented with borrowed text. One case of a plagiarized case study, which included clinical photographs, which at first was considered falsification of data also, so a lot of cases with plagiarism are also easily tied in with falsification of data or fabrication. The penalties, of course, are article retraction and notification of the institution. There's also serial plagiarism, and I think this is what is kind of interesting is you find that when somebody plagiarizes and you start going back and looking at their other papers you start seeing that they’ve plagiarized before. And editors have found that when they give these plagiarists, serial plagiarists, or even any plagiarist a chance to resubmit their manuscript, it often comes back plagiarized again. Not quite as bad, but it’s still plagiarized. This kind of shows you that people don't really understand what plagiarism is.
Q: There's actually a great website called Retraction Watch and the cases they detail, a lot of them are due to plagiarism. It’s just amazing what the authors will do, and that is one of the interesting aspects that have come out of this website, which is about three years old now, is there are authors that are serial plagiarists and there’s a couple of authors that have had over a hundred papers retracted. I mean something is solely out there. But yeah, a lot of retractions tend to be from a small number of authors
JONATHAN: The website, for those who want to visit, is retractionwatch.wordpress.com; for those who might be curious to check it out. They even have a plagiarism tag. You can see all of the plagiarism cases displayed.
SANDRA: Yeah, it’s a really great website.
Q: I have a problem in our office. I searched every single lab I've worked in, every university.
SANDRA: So as we’ve talked about, there’s increases in journal retraction rates and there have been a couple of—if you go and do the search you will find there have been some studies, not very many on this. One of those studies by Bob [Steinal] suggests that retraction rates are increasing due to lower barriers to publication of flyer articles. And what he talks about is the fact that there are just so many more opportunities for people to publish. There are so many more journals. And there is just this push to publish. Journals actually are expanding the number of articles that they are taking in, and so there are just more opportunity and the barrier seems to have been lowered a bit because of this.
[Stranton et al] did a study and found that the retraction rate was associated with authors in developing country.
Q: I just wanted to add onto the publication...
SANDRA: Yes. I mean you also have journal editors have talked about how they handle retractions and what they say about them, and there’s a lot of like libel legal issues about what you say. But I think it’s getting a lot stronger, and McGill has the guidelines on that. Yes?
Q: Are there any journals that actually like on their own initiative go back and run the software?
JASON: There have been a few that have done it and gone back over especially—when they do a housecleaning, if you will. It’s happened. I mean it’s not very common, but I do know of a couple of journals that have done it. So yeah, it does happen. It’s just not common.
Q: They went through and actually got people to submit it; deliberately put a plagiarized article to see if their review would capture it. They do that on purpose.
SANDRA: Yeah, and I think a lot of journals are starting to. Like Jonathan said, it’s more expensive to retract articles than it is to screen them ahead of time. And so I think a lot of journals are paying more attention. Once they’ve gotten burned, like Lancet, which got burnt for the Wakefield study and they started being a lot more vigilant about their submissions. I think they were one of the first people that started hooking up with iThenticate and run L submissions. A lot of journals do that now. Every submission that comes through is going to get run through a plagiarism check.
JONATHAN: One of the reasons I think we're so few retractions, we get so many articles rejected for plagiarism is because journals in general already were vigilant about it, and that’s a good thing. That means the walls are pretty much working.
SANDRA: There is a lot more awareness. But I guess one of the things that I've found was very important, especially I encountered a lot of cases of plagiarism in my work as a publication editor, is intent. Intent requires knowing that you're breaking the rules and I think we talked a little bit about that because a lot of people don't really understand exactly what plagiarism is. So it’s really important to make sure that people understand what it is. So plagiarists often claim ignorance of plagiarism policies, and so it’s really important that institutions and journals make clear what their rules are and that they post their policies online, including the penalties, and that they require authors and supervisors to sign statements of originality. And a lot of institutions are doing this now, but it’s just slowly becoming accepted standards.
There was a study by Voss [ph] about misconduct policies, looking at 399 high impact journals and found that only 56% of them, this was even in 2012, had definitions of plagiarism available online, and only 28% of them used plagiarism detection software. So I think that we're moving in that direction, but we're still not there yet. Education on plagiarism is really important because again most of the people who plagiarize insist that they didn't understand that they were plagiarizing. And so journals really need to up the game write authors with information about how to avoid plagiarism and what their expectations are regarding citations and paraphrasing and quoting because I think this is still very confusing for even a lot of advanced medical and science writers and the penalties for plagiarism, and they should advertise if they're using plagiarism software in submitting articles.
Medical writers have an opportunity also to be alert for plagiarism and to educate their clients, freelance medical writers, as well as the publication editor. I often come across draft manuscripts that people are putting together, especially if they're hiring a medical writer. They think okay, well, I’ll just cut and paste here and here’s what I kind of want to say and I think it’s really important if you're doing freelance work or working with organizations to make sure that you're letting your clients know that you think that they're plagiarizing. A really good online educational resource is from the ORI; Avoiding Plagiarism by Miguel Roig, which I really recommend that you go. It’s really a wonderful primer on how to avoid plagiarism.
So I guess I want to talk a little bit. We already have about what factors contribute to plagiarism and in the education field of patch writing, which was coined by Rebecca Howard, is an example of how plagiarism may come about in the learning environment. Patch writing is a learning method where a student copies content as a way to understand new terminology, concepts, or language. I find patch writing a lot whenever these people come to developing countries where English is their second language. It’s also used when a person is new to a discipline or writing across disciplines in writing English as a second language. It’s considered a legitimate learning device in the educational field. I mean that’s a way that people learn. Studies in some instances found that it reduces time writing and improves the quality of writing. And if you're unsure of connotations, it seems safer to reproduce a text than to try to figure out—when you're really new in a field exactly how to rephrase it. But again, it’s not a legitimate professional writing device and it shouldn't be carried forward as a professional habit. I think that’s one thing; if you're educating people about plagiarism, especially students that are moving into a professional field, is they need to—there are no excuses if you're writing a professional article. You have to follow the professional rules.
So the other idea is not only how do we learn, but how we process information. There have been some studies about unconscious copying of words or ideas and this has been used as an excuse by plagiarists. I'm just throwing in a few ideas like Helen Keller. She was accused of plagiarizing a story when she was twelve years old called The Frost King where she had actually written the story and submitted to the dean of her school, and he was very excited about it. He passed it around to everybody, and then it was found out that it was actually a plagiarized version of a child’s story that was written by someone else. So this idea like how could that happen? She can’t read. She can't even hear. And they couldn't really quite figure out how this came about. They finally found that when she was three years—they found a copy of the book in a home that she had visited when she was three years old and just had to think that she had been told the story at some point in time and remembered it.
But what was interesting about this for me was that in her whole life she questioned herself; how could I have thought that was my story when it wasn’t? And so I think there is something about hearing something and taking it into yourself and not remembering where it came from. And then of course George Harrison in My Sweet Lord, he was accused of plagiarizing He’s So Fine, so you hear things. Studies continue to explore this kind of aspect of human recall and I just listed a few of them and just want to remind that recall is faulty regarding origination of ideas and words and it’s more of an excuse I think in non-science disciplines, but it’s something to keep in mind. And conscious copying of words and ideas is also something that has been discussed as cultural tradition in different disciplines. My daughter-in-law is from Mongolia and the Mongolian culture, they're reading method that traditionally is very different than ours in that it’s not like testing is that something that they didn't really understand because why would you try to not help somebody out in school? That whole idea of learning is sharing and try to not—if somebody doesn't know the answer to something you just tell them. And so we're not supposed to tell them so --
Q: I've had students tell me that copying directly from an expert is a form of honoring this. And I couldn't understand if I'm sending them off to conduct—they’re like, what?
Q2: Plus they think that if you name His Eminence, he will be insulted because of everybody should know who His Eminence is. And if you named His Eminence you were insulting to the reader because the reader should know who His Eminence is; so you don't need to cite the name of His Eminence.
JASON: I met a guy who was teaching English at a school in Perdition Rock, he set up a school there and they didn't have a word in the local language for plagiarism, a negative word. So how can you teach the idea to something you don't have a word for?
Q2: It’s a Western idea.
SANDRA: Yeah, it really is and I hear some people say—I've heard publishers discuss it because they could copyright information and to try to start honing ideas. But I think when you get into science it’s very different because crediting your sources is really kind of part of explaining the influences and for a lot of people to be able to follow your work.
So I just wanted to talk a little bit about the American Medical Association and the four types of plagiarism that are listed in their manual style there, which include direct plagiarism as we often talk about. Like the different types of plagiarism, which of course quoting and conveying content without citing the source, or even quoting overly large segments even with a citation in quotes that are just too big a percent in the document, even if you had cited. And then Mosaic plagiarism, which of course patch is similar. I think of patch writing when you're kind of mine your words and ideas with borrowed words and ideas and not appropriately citing. And paraphrasing, which is rewording without citing the source or rewording and citing the source and not doing it appropriately an insufficient acknowledgement like only citing part of borrowed content.
So I think that paraphrasing and quoting are really misunderstood, especially misunderstood by people new to the field and people new to English language. It’s not simply replacing words or rewritten sentences and we need to do a lot better job of educating people about how to appropriately paraphrase. And some content is just really hard to paraphrase. I mean facts on technical descriptions are hard to plagiarize without changing your meaning and complicated study results can be hard to plagiarize or hard to paraphrase. I know I've found with a lot of people who’ve tried this, and you’ve probably experienced this too, that it’s really easy to distort the meaning of a study if you try to reword it in a really newly unique way. It just really is difficult. And so the alternative, of course, is to put something in quotes. But the truth is even though style guides with AMA and the CSE, they recommend using quotes. The reality is that science articles don't use quotations; it’s just not really accepted style. And so this really creates a real problem when people are trying to follow rules in science and medical writing when the rules just kind of don't make sense.
I kept the copies of JAMA and New England Journal that come to our house for a couple of months and just looked through them to try to find quotes. And they did use quotes all in their news items, in their letters and commentaries, and only really associated with dialogue. So it’s the idea that we're sort of—people are confused about plagiarism. Writers are confused about how to write it. When you look at style manuals, they say do this. But when you look at practice you find that that’s just not really how we do things in science and medical writing.
So the other part that I think is kind of confusing is the citation format and how it might contribute to plagiarism. The idea that superscript citations; does this enable plagiarism? There’s a barely visible number at the end of the sentence. It doesn't indicate who the source is when you're reading it really. It’s easy to lose source information when you're copying and pasting, and it really—I think it really adds to the confusion that a lot of people have of not kind of acknowledging their sources. In other disciplines like the APA Manual or Chicago formats, which I think really helps provide a reminder of context. You clearly acknowledge your source. You provide a time stamp. You remind the reader in the audience of the influences that contribute there in your writing. So I think that’s one thing to consider a little bit about how science and medicine in some ways set things up in a way that make plagiarism a little bit easier to not detect.
I know when I'm working with my writers, especially new writers, I always use a name date. I am insisting they're using a name date when they're doing their drafting, because that way everybody who will be reading it can see right away what article they're referring to. You can see right away if it’s a really old lab report and it really shouldn't be in there anyway and needs to be updated. And you can see they’ve done their literature search. I think that's something that we should start thinking a little bit about how we use citations in science and medicine.
The other thing to think a little bit about is, community conventions define plagiarism; ORI definition states that. It has to seriously deviate from those practices that are commonly accepted within the scientific community. And so our understanding, like Jonathan had said, it’s not the same. Scientific community common practice differs from other communities. For example, like the law community. And I just put this example here, Richard Posner has a great book called The Little Book of Plagiarism that talks about legal writing conventions and the idea that a judge’s opinion is not written by the judge. It’s written by clerks and lots of times they won't even touch it, but it still has their name on it. It is considered authorized by the person as authored. And so I think it’s important to understand that there are different communities that have different standards for how you write and how you credit sources and the idea that it assumes your target audience understands that.
Let me talk a little bit about self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism really is one of the top kinds of plagiarism things. A lot of people really don't think it’s a problem. I mean they don't think that it’s—it’s just not the same as other kinds of plagiarism. I know a lot of people that I've worked with, especially people that are invited to write reviews. If you ask them to do it, you ask them to do it because they already published really a lot in this area and really did a nice job. And so they think you really want to hear the same kind of thing. The World Association of Medical Editors, they talk a lot about this and talk about the fact that it’s well-widespread. Usually unintentional, but the key I think, especially for publishers that I know, Lancet is one of those journals that is very keen on this, is that it really violates copyright law. I mean you don't usually own your writing even though it might be self-plagiarism. It’s actually a copyright violation. That's probably one of the most serious infringements of self-plagiarism. Now there’s still no consensus on whether it’s really scientific misconduct, and there's really no consensus on how many words constitute self-plagiarism and exactly how they do it.
Q: The problem with self-plagiarism is if you are an expert or specialist in a particular field, which I am and I write a thousand papers— two thousand papers, it’s really hard to talk about the basic statistics in insomnia without—all right, how can I phrase that?
SANDRA: I already said it really well.
Q: Yeah, it’s really tough to try and rephrase something that doesn't run. I do it, but it’s a challenge.
SANDRA: And sometimes that’s part of it. It’s like is it worth it?
Q: Especially who has probably already struggled in the translation to get it nice and crisp. They find themselves having to repeat especially the method --
JASON: The methodology, yeah.
Q: As you say, if you try to paraphrase it you might change it. So is there a way to say, well—to briefly paraphrase or something?
JONATHAN: Some journals are doing exactly that. They're just replacing the methodology with see a previous study, and others are actually including the methodology as an attachment to the article rather than putting it in the article. And that way they can cite it as being from this previous source completely and altogether; so that’s too an approach to be taken up.
SANDRA: I think the other thing is transparency, to just be able to say as was previously --
JONATHAN: As we did here…
Q: Don Harding from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This may be an area where the business model, the new business model of Open Source publishing may be affecting how this gets handles because, if I'm not mistaken, in the traditional business model the journal holds copyright to the manuscript as published. But in the Open Source model the author retains copyright. And if that's the case, I would certainly hope—certainly free the author of the original article to use his or her work over and over in other cases. I may be wrong about that, but that's at least my understanding.
SANDRA: Not violate a copyright.
JONATHAN: But Open Source publication, it depends on what version of it. There's actually several approaches to it. But one is that the journal still holds the copyright, but they license it under open licensing terms, like creative column systems, where others including the original author are free to go back and use them. So that works just as well.
Q: That kind of addresses your issue I guess, right? You can reuse your material?
JONATHAN: Yeah, definitely.
Q: Your own?
Q2: Open Source Scholarship.
SANDRA: Well, for example, we just submitted some consensus statements to a journal and we had to choose if we want to make it available. But you have to choose, and you have to pay for it too. Journals don't give it to you for free.
Q: There are issues with Open Source.
SANDRA: Yeah, and it’s very complicated. Yes, like you have to choose.
Q: I guess what I'm saying is that here’s another area of complexity to know about.