[Podcast] Plagiarism and Publishing Ethics: Writing Best Practices

Posted by Jessica Gopalakrishnan on Dec 12, 2014 4:26:00 PM

Plagiarism and integrity continue to be areas of concern on academic, research and publishing levels.  We had the pleasure of speaking with Peter LaPlaca who is the editor of Industrial Marketing Management (IMM), a journal published by Elsevier, and a global seminar speaker, promoting ethics. During this audio interview, Mr. LaPlaca discusses various types of issues he and other editors encounter (some are rather surprising), best practices for how editors can handle submissions that contain plagiarism, and how giving students the proper guidance can make a world of difference when it comes to publishing success.

Listen to the podcast

Read along:

Peter_Head_Shot_2014_copyHALLIE KAPNER:    Hi everyone, I’m Hallie Kapner with iThenticate and today we are talking with Peter LaPlaca who is the editor of Industrial Marketing Management (IMM). Hi Peter.

PETER LaPLACA:    Good morning Hallie, how are you today?

HALLIE KAPNER:    We’re great; happy to have you with us. I’m really excited to take a few minutes and talk about the next generation of academics and professors and how with Peter’s help the right guidance can make all the difference when it comes to publishing success, especially when it comes to topics that our audience is really interested in like ethics. So let’s dive right in Peter.

So you’re the editor at IMM, but you have an interesting side piece of your job that I think our audience might not know about, and that is helping academics improve their writing skills. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about that?

PETER LaPLACA:    Well as an editor, my basic job is to coordinate feedback between viewers and authors. We use a double-blind review process where the authors don’t know their viewers and vice versa. In doing this I advise authors on the best way to address concerns raised by reviewers. Since over 80% of submissions to IMM are eventually rejected, it’s important that reviewers provide thorough feedback to authors despite the fact we don’t publish the paper. This helps them get published in other journals.

Publishers also help with this process. Our publisher is Elsevier. In addition to web based reviewing systems, they host editors’ conferences several times a year. Every five or seven years or so, each editor is invited to one of these conferences. At an Editors’ Conference in San Diego several years ago, we were at lunch talking and we discovered that we have a similar pattern of problems despite the different disciplines we’re in. And at our table we had people from science, medicine, engineering, business, economics. The problems have nothing to do with the discipline, but rather they involve the process of publishing scientific papers. Following this conference, about 40 editors collaborated to develop a presentation on how to write a world class paper. I had given the four hour presentation over 65 times in Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, and Oceana. I’m still looking for a University of Antarctica so I can cover all the continents.

In addition to the seminar, I spend the rest of the day or two at each host university meeting individually or with small groups of doctoral students and professors to discuss their writing. In the seminar I discuss how to plan research. Picking the right topic is the most critical aspect of getting published. I also cover how to target the right journal, how to structure a research paper, how to respond to reviewers. I stress the author must write for the reader, and the first reader is the reviewer. I also go over how to continually sell your paper to the reader beginning with a cover letter, the title, the abstract, and then throughout the various parts of the paper itself. These presentations have been very well received.

HALLIE KAPNER:    I’m not surprised to hear that, although it is interesting, you would think that so many of these things would be sort of fundamental basic things that these academics would be learning as they were progressing through their career. Now you’d think that in today’s academic climate where there is so much pressure to constantly publish and move quickly through your career and become a superstar, do you feel like these sort of basic fundamental skills on writing and capturing your audience, and understanding how to target, do you feel like these things have really taken a backseat?

PETER LaPLACA:    Absolutely. The quantity of writing has taken precedents over the quality of writing.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Exactly, that’s what it sounds like.

PETER LaPLACA:    It’s not just the pressure to advance your career, but universities, especially in those countries where research funding is tied to numbers of publications by the faculty, exert a lot of pressure on the faculty and doctoral students. Another aspect of this academic pressure to publish is probably due to the accreditation requirements where again the number of articles published are part of most accreditation standards. Heaven help the dean who loses accreditation because not enough of the faculty are qualified, that is not have maintained a solid record of publishing.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Yes it’s tough. We hear so much. We speak to academics across all disciplines and professors and editors like yourself and we hear this time and time again, so it’s interesting to hear it reiterated. You mentioned you’ve given this presentation so many times and you’ve met individually with so many people in the academic writing field. Are there common challenges you find yourself dealing with again and again when you’re working through coaching these professors about their writing and how to improve it?

PETER LaPLACA:    I think people don’t allow sufficient time to do it. Everybody seems to be in a rush today. Research is rushed, analysis is rushed, and when they receive reviewer comments they want to rush the revision back in, and they tend to only address the specific comments of the reviewers instead of also trying to improve the entire paper.

Another problem I find a lot is the inadequate level of English. English has become the global standards for academic research. And while most North American and Western European researchers have excellent English writing skills, and remember, excellent does not mean perfect, is a bigger problem for researchers from developing countries, especially China. Most publishers have language polishing assistance and there are private sources of that also, but authors are reluctant to use them until after the paper has been accepted. But poor English almost guarantees rejection, so it’s a ...

HALLIE KAPNER:    Right, it’s a vicious circle.

PETER LaPLACA:    Yes. Another problem I see is that researchers try to get multiple papers from the same research project. I don’t have any problem if they prepare one or two significantly different papers from the same research data. But when they try to slice the data eight ways to Sunday and prepare five or six slightly different papers, it not only bogs down the reviewing process, it doesn’t help advance knowledge, and that is the purpose of academic publishing.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Well I’m interested, also we were talking about language and we were talking about ethical issues, you know, something that again is really of interest to our audience. When you’re working with these writers, do ethical issues like plagiarism and research misconduct, do those things come up, and if so how do you address them?

PETER LaPLACA:    Well unfortunately they come up too often.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Yes, I’m not surprised.

PETER LaPLACA:    Last year for example, we found eight cases of plagiarism and six cases of multiple submissions.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Wow, just in your journal?

PETER LaPLACA:    Yes just in IMM, yes. And speaking of this, I was at a conference last week in Singapore and I talked to a couple of other editors from different journals and they’ve got the same problem, it’s just, it’s all over there.

Another problem is when they add a new author at the final stage of the review process, almost when the paper has been accepted. I’ve discovered that this happens when a non-publishing member of the faculty that reduces the school’s ratio of qualified faculty and jeopardizes their accreditation, the faculty member is just added to a paper so he gets a publication.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Wow, so it’s really just like thrown on there, just like tack it to the train.

PETER LaPLACA:    It seems that way. One student approached me a couple of years ago after a seminar and she told me that her advisor wanted to be put on a paper and I said well that’s fine, what did he do for the paper? She says nothing, and he said that if she didn't put his name on it she wouldn’t get a doctorate.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Oh my gosh!

PETER LaPLACA:    So this unethical advisor had put her in a position. And I told her, well, you got to look at your own career, and you got to do what you have to do to get your doctorate, but I would as soon as you can get out of that situation.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Yes, no it’s good advice. And actually that’s pretty galling. I mean, we hear of situations often that are far more subtle than that, but that’s pretty brazen.

PETER LaPLACA:    Well I saw one dean at a school in China with 600 publications in one year; now that’s kind of impossible. He apparently had his name on every paper published in the school, so those things happen. I also get problems with multiple submissions, redundant publications, plagiarism, data fabrication, and improper author contribution. We spend a lot of time defining plagiarism because so many people simply don’t understand what it is, especially self-plagiarism. They don’t understand that once a paper is published, the rights to the paper, especially the words, belong to the publisher. Most publishers give authors a wide range of rights when it comes to using their own papers in classes or on their websites. But one thing that’s not included is the right to use the same materials in another publication, and that leads to plagiarism.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Yes and a lot of, we hear a lot of debate about that idea because people say well it’s my material so it can be reused, but of course it’s not that, that’s not the issue. The issue is a copyright issue.

PETER LaPLACA:    I’ve had to argue with authors, they don’t want to sign the copyright release form. And I said well then it won’t be published without that and they finally relent and sign it, but I’m worried about them following-up on their end of the deal.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Yes it seems like a very justified concern. So I was lucky enough to review your presentation that you delivered all around the world, and something that I thought was really interesting was that European authors seem to have a much higher acceptance rate in your journal, IMM, than submitting authors from other countries. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on why that is and if there might be something that we could learn from the academic culture over there versus our own academic culture here in the U.S.?

PETER LaPLACA:    Well, I think there’s several reasons for the higher acceptance rate from the European authors. First of all, they’re trained in English starting from an early age and they’re very fluent in English. And obviously that applies for American authors, but American tend to have a lower acceptance rate than the Europeans. I think it’s specific to my journal, Business-to-Business Marketing, the orientation of European business schools tends to be more business-to-business than business-to-consumer markets as in the United States, particularly in marketing departments.

Another factor I think is a much closer cooperation between business schools and industry in Europe than in the U.S. Far more PhD’s in Europe go into industry rather than academics in the U.S. In Europe it’s not uncommon to see experienced managers leave their careers in industry and get a PhD and then teach and do research. This seldom happens in the United States. In fact, last week at our conference I met an IMM reviewer who spent 30 years in industry, went back, got her doctorate, and is now a researcher.

Another factor that is part of this situation is that it’s far more common in Europe to have professors who do little if any teaching, they’re only doing research. Now we do have research professors in the United States, but it’s much more common in Europe.

HALLIE KAPNER:    It’s all a really interesting set of comparisons. Something else that I wanted to talk to you about while I still got you here is the idea of citation, and we talk about this a lot when we talk to academics and also to editors of how important it is to cite things properly. And obviously it’s pretty clear why that’s so critical from an ethical point of view, but I think you had mentioned this earlier also in our conversation, but proper citation is a really big factor in evaluating papers for publication. Maybe you could just chat with us a little bit about why it’s so important for people to learn how to cite properly and also accurately.

PETER LaPLACA:    Academic publishing exists to advance knowledge. That’s the purpose of most journals. And research papers to be accepted, must address a specific gap in known knowledge. It’s not repeating knowledge, it’s finding new knowledge. And the research in which to demonstrate they have a full grasp of the knowledge base, and that’s the where the citations come in, they build upon previous work.

It’s very common for a reviewer, when they make review of a paper, to identify a lack of knowledge base in a paper, and they may provide 15, 20, or 30 references that the author has not put in the paper that are relevant to the research. And they also have to show a gap in the knowledge, not just the knowledge itself, but what’s missing, and where the paper fits in. Citations are necessary to do this. Without the firm establishment of knowledge, you can’t identify a gap.

Many journals occasionally publish articles describing a research agenda, and that is essentially telling people we need research in this area, there’s a gap. So if they can cite those kind of articles it helps cement the fact that they are doing research that does advance known knowledge.

HALLIE KAPNER:    That’s pretty clear.

PETER LaPLACA:    Yes.

HALLIE KAPNER:    We talked a little bit about plagiarism of course already, I mean how could you not in discussing these subjects. But in terms of prevention, you know, we of course, at iThenticate are interested in detecting and of course preventing plagiarism, but do you have any thoughts in terms of how you advise your best practices for preventing plagiarism professionally and also I’m wondering what your thoughts are on plagiarism detection software like iThenticate, and certainly there are others that help editors and reviewers, you know, zero in when there’s a problem?

PETER LaPLACA:    Well, I think plagiarism occurs for several reasons. One I think is the fact that many people really don’t know what constitutes plagiarism.

HALLIE KAPNER:    I think you’re right.

PETER LaPLACA:    The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy defines plagiarism, and I’m quoting them, “it’s the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit, including those obtained through confidential review of other research proposals and manuscripts.” People don’t understand what that is. In my seminars I stress the fact that plagiarism is a serious offense and it’s thought of that by the institute they work at, the journal editors, and the community. Plagiarism can result in academic charges and will certainly cause a rejection of their paper. It hurts their reputation, it can result in them being blacklisted by a journal or even a group of journals, and I’ve had cases where people have been dismissed from a university because of plagiarism.

So writers may improperly paraphrase others works. Improper paraphrasing is plagiarism. Writers also don’t know that they’re not allowed to copy their own work without proper citation. Self-plagiarism is the most common form that I found in the past 20 years as an editor. One way to prevent this is to include a heavy dose of plagiarism discussion in writing classes for doctoral students. Another way, and unfortunately this hurts people, is to publicize cases of plagiarism when they’re caught, spread the word that people violated something and they’re damaged as a result.

When I identify plagiarism and prove it by using authentication sources, I immediately reject the paper, I inform all the editors of business marketing journals about this case, and we all know each other. There’s an editor friend in Boston, we have lunch together sometimes, I play golf with an editor of a competing journal in Atlanta when I’m down there to visit my daughter, so we know each other, it’s a small community. I permanently blacklist those authors from ever submitting to IMM again, and I inform the plagiarizer’s university of the plagiarism.

We had a case in my university a few years ago where students were plagiarizing a paper and they were dismissed from the university in the final semester of their MBA program. So it’s a tough situation. There was a case where I identified plagiarism in a foreign university and I contacted them and it was a doctoral student, and months before being awarded the doctorate he was dismissed from university. So it’s a serious, serious problem with dire consequences.

Whenever either I or one of my reviewers suspects plagiarism, I log onto iThenticate, that’s the plagiarism checker I use mostly, to verify the fact that it is plagiarism. The iThenticate plagiarism software, provides complete documentation on duplicated wording compared to previously published articles. Usually when faced with the evidence, the authors admit the error and they try to plead it was accidental. I tend not to buy that.

A few days ago I had a case where I knew the submission was a duplicate submission, but iThenticate could not show that because the other paper was at the articles-in-press stage and not yet published. I think that’s a problem with all of the plagiarism software, it only can look at what’s already published.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Right now of course these things are still going to surface because you never know where somebody else has something. You know, you can’t see, you know, like you talked about multiple submissions, you just can’t see it, that’s just the way that it is. So that’s definitely still an issue.

So I just want to wrap up quickly by asking you one more question, and that of course would be if you had just a couple of succinct pieces of advice for young doctoral candidates or those just beginning to consider an academic career, if you had just a couple of pieces of advice you might leave them with?

PETER LaPLACA:    Well, I tell them in my seminars that if they’re seeking a career in academia, they have to fully commit to honest research. That means they have to stay current in their field. Even if they’re just teaching, they have to stay current.

I suggest that they devote at least one day per week to read a wide range of journals in their field, and not just the top two or three journals. Also read other journals in related fields. I tell them that they should say yes when others ask them to review their papers and then do an exceptional job in their review. A tough pre-submission review is a great help to those authors. It also improves their skills.

I tell them never to submit a paper to a journal that has not already been reviewed by colleagues in their institution or other institutions. I tell them not to take shortcuts in their research or writing. Shortcuts makes the process take longer. I ask them not to rush their work, especially when doing revisions.

I ask them, you know, you have to work with others. Several heads are better than one head. They start out working with their advisor, and then other doctoral students at their institution, they go to conferences to meet others doing the same kind of research. They should build networks of researchers with whom they can collaborate, particularly in global research projects it’s very important to do that. They have to expect others to review their work and they must reciprocate. If someone asks them to review a paper, they should do it.

Let me close with quoting a different editor, Nigel Cook, Editor-in-Chief of Ore Geology Reviews. When he was asked what gets you published, he has a couple of points and I’ll, they’re bullet points, and if you look at the first letter of all these bullet points it spells out acceptance.

Attention to details; check and double-check your work. I hate it when a paper is submitted to me that has typos and it just wasn’t done over before submitted.

The third bullet is to consider the reviews. Don’t slough them off and say they’re not important. They’ve very important.

Number four, English must be as good as possible. The presentation is important. How you present the information, the data, the charts, the tables, that’s important to the quality of the paper.

The next bullet is take your time. Take your time writing it, take your time with the revision. Rushing doesn’t help at all.

The next one is the A in acknowledge. Acknowledge those who’ve helped you, people who reviewed it for you, people who have aided you in any way, a little footnote in the first page of acknowledgment is fine.

Next is new. To get that published you need new research. New originally, previously unpublished research is required.

Critically evaluate your own manuscript, and that’s tough to do. We’re not good critics of ourselves. But if you want to really excel in this business, you’ve got to learn to be critical of yourself. And the last one is ethics. Follow ethical rules, they must be obeyed. So if you look at the first letter it spells acceptance of those points.

HALLIE KAPNER:    Well what a great note to close on. Peter, thank you so much for your time, it has been fantastic to talk with you and we hope to do it again.

PETER LaPLACA:    Okay Hallie, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.




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