First off today, Kerry Grens at The Scientist reports that Pharmacologia, which is published by a company named Science Reuters (which has no connection to the news service Reuters) and Insight Biomedical Science, which is published by Insight Knowledge, have both published content that appeared previously in PLOS journals without proper attribution. According to the report, at least one of the authors whose paper had been reused was unaware of even the existence of Science Reuters, much less having submitted the paper to any of their journals. Further, the editor-in-chief at Science Reuters resigned one day after being contacted by The Scientist. It is unclear if Science Reuters published the articles or simply listed them on their site. On the other hand, a support liaison at Insight Knowledge responded saying that their journal republished the open access articles using their Creative Commons license and that it was done with attribution. However, according to The Scientist, no mention of the original journal was made. To make matters worse, The Scientist reached out to several editors on the Insight Biomedical Science board but none were aware of their participation. Jeffrey Beall, the University of Colorado Denver librarian best known for his list of “predatory” journals has, to date, not put either of these journals nor their publisher on his ever-growing list organizations.
Analysis: Though we hear a great deal about plagiarism committed by researchers making it into journals, we don’t hear a lot about the journals themselves doing the plagiarizing. Journals, traditionally, are the ones working to detect and prevent plagiarism, not the cause of it. However, with the rising issue of predatory journals, this was an inevitable problem. Such journals need to fill their virtual pages. Any journal that is unethical enough to charge publication fees without providing any of the services a journal provides, (peer review, meaningful publication, etc.) then some will not be above filling empty pages by using plagiarized articles from other sources. To be clear, there are ways to republish content from other journals ethically but it does not appear that is what these journals were doing as, in none of the cases, were the original journals even mentioned. The involvement of open access journals further complicates things for researchers. Open access is meant to increase access to research by both the public and the scientific community. This is done, in part, through the use of licenses that remove many of the copyright-related barriers to such research. However, the Creative Commons licenses most commonly used by open access journals, including PLOS, are meant to be legal constructs, not ethical guidelines. They might make duplicative publication legal, but they don’t set the guidelines for when and how it should be done ethically. Undesirable and unethical reuse of content is going to be a growing challenge for the open access movement, its journals and its authors over the next few years. How to deal with it is a much more difficult question.
Next up today, in an update to a story we covered in the 5th edition of this column, the Canadian Supreme Court has reinstated a $4 million award against a hospital, overturning an appeals court ruling that threw out the award on the grounds of judicial plagiarism. The case centers around the Cojocaru family, whose son was born with a severe brain injury due to errors committed by doctors at B.C. Women’s Hospital. A lower court judge found that the hospital and several of its staff were negligent in their treatment and awarded the family $5 million to help pay for medical care the child would need. However, the hospital and doctors appealed claiming that the judge had plagiarized almost 100 pages of his 110-page ruling from written arguments filed by the plaintiffs. According to the hospital, that showed the judge had not acted impartially and the appeals court agreed, setting aside the judgment. However, with this latest ruling, the Supreme Court has reinstated most of the verdict, awarding $4 million to the family. Actions against the nurse, the hospital and two doctors were dismissed. Only one action, filed against Dr. Jenise Yue in respect to patient consent was upheld. However, that judgment was the bulk of the financial award.
Analysis: The Cojocaru case had been closely watched by both those in Canada and elsewhere. In the legal profession, plagiarism, or acts that would be considered plagiarism in another profession, are common. Unattributed, verbatim copying of filings is common and even encouraged at times. However, as the case showed, there are times when it can be a problem, such as when it can be used to attack the impartiality of the judge. Though the attack was ultimately unsuccessful, it significantly delayed the conclusion of the case and the family receiving the compensation they were told they deserved. While it’s likely the case would have been appealed on other grounds if the reuse had not been present, the fact that the challenge was successful initially made things much more difficult for both the family and their lawyer. However, this doesn’t mean that this is the end for judicial plagiarism issues. The Supreme Court ruling notes that, even though the judge copied significant portions of the the plaintiff’s filings, he also rejected some of their key arguments and otherwise demonstrated that he considered the issues “independently and impartially”. This seems to indicate that there is a line a judge can not cross when incorporating the works of one of the parties in a case into their ruling. It was just a line that was not crossed in this case.
From Canada to Malaysia, Qishin Tariq at The Star reports that the Federal court in Malaysia has rejected a similar claim that one of its judicial panels plagiarists its decisions in a case involving a civil dispute. The ruling awarded RM200,000 ($65,000) and RM150,000 ($49,000) in legal costs to Ooi Woon Chee and Ng Kim Tuck and Can-One International respectively. The case itself was a business dispute involving the liquidation of company shares held by Can-One International. Those protesting the liquidation sued to stop it and, after the judge ruled against them, filed an appeal claiming that the decision was plagiarized. However, the five-man panel, which included the Court of Appeal President among other high-ranking judges declined the appeal saying that, while the panel did copy from filings made by the defendants, it only copied 70 of more than 180 paragraphs and, according to the panel, remained impartial. Still, the court stopped short of encouraging the practice as it could create a negative perception and, in cases, go against the presumption of judicial impartiality.
Analysis: While this case might have been a more mundane dispute than the Canadian one, the result was the same. In both cases a judgment was challenged due to plagiarism and, in both cases, it was ruled that the judge or judges still acted with impartiality. However, the facts of the two cases are significantly different. This case involves just over 33% plagiarism in the judgment where the Canadian judge copied over 90% of his judgment. This indicates that the Malaysian panel incorporated significantly more original verbiage into their judgment than the Canadian judge. But what the two cases share is the issue of judicial impartiality. Plagiarism, for a judge, is not so much an issue of misappropriation or dishonesty, but of independence and impartiality. A judge pulling too heavily from one side in a dispute might give an indication that they are biased toward that side, calling into question their verdict. If a judge can and does remain impartial, then, according to these courts, their rulings should be allowed to stand now matter how much they copied in their written judgments. In the end, unattributed judicial copying may not be an issue by itself, but it opens up avenues to challenge judgments and judges, when possible, would still be wise to avoid it. If judges are aiming to make their decisions “appeal proof” they should consider avoiding plagiarism challenges to be part of the process. Otherwise, there’s a good chance we’re going to be hearing more about plagiarism-oriented legal challenges.
Next up today, Barry Duggan at The Independent reports that the Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) has cleared Flan Garvey, current chairman of the government body at the school, of plagiarism in his Master’s thesis and, as a result, Garvey has announced that he may be enrolling as a PhD student at the institute. The announcement was made by ITT secretary Donal Fitzgibbon, who notified the college’s staff that Garvey would resume his chairman position. His reinstatement was effective May 20th. The scandal was just one of two that surrounded Garvey, who had also been accused of misusing school funds, having received some €125,000 ($160,000) in expenses between 2005 and 2011. According to Garvey, that money was used for fuel and overnight stays that were required of him since he lived so far away from the school, approximately 100 miles. But despite the scandals, Garvey has said he is considering furthering his education at the school and enrolling as a PhD student. Though the school admits it is “unique” for a sitting chairman to be enrolled as a student, they say that there is nothing unethical about it.
Update: Just before this edition was to go live, it was announced that Garvey will be resigning from his chairman post on July 31 and not completing his term.
Analysis: Smaller and lesser-known schools have a much bigger concerns over plagiarism and related academic integrity issues. Where Harvard can endure a major cheating scandal and, due to its history and prestige, still be best known for high quality academics, a story such as this might be all a person or a reader sees about a school like the Institute of Technology Tralee, which was established in 1977 and has an enrollment of less than 4,000 students. For schools such as ITT to survive and thrive, it’s not enough that they maintain high academic standards, but they have to avoid the appearance or such issues. This can be difficult when even a whiff of a plagiarism scandal at a university can gain media traction but having strong academic policies and being transparent regarding ethics issues can go a long way. But what makes Garvey’s case so difficult are the other issues that surround it. Between the allegations of the misuse of funds and the possibility that he will be both a chairman and a student at the same time, the plagiarism scandal simply appears to be a part of a much more complex issue that isn’t likely to go away with this decision. The school, for its part, has stuck by Garvey and has defended him against his detractors. Garvey himself has also staunchly defended his work, his spending and his decisions. However, there’s no doubt that this has been a distraction for the school, which is both small and relatively young, giving it and its students some unwanted publicity and attention.
In literary news today, Claire Carter at The Telegraph reports that a recently uncovered letter written by Rudyard Kipling in 1895 admits that he borrowed “promiscuously” from other works when penning The Jungle Book. The letter is addressed to an unknown woman identified only as “madam” discusses what is Kiplings most enduring work “The Jungle Book”, in particular the “Law of The Jungle”, which played a role in the short story and later also became a poem. In the letter, Kipling says that “In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen,” Indicating that he knowingly lifted content from other sources that he could not recall. The letter is currently available for sell by Andrusier Autographs.
Analysis: Without more context to Kipling’s letter, it’s difficult to know exactly what he meant by these statements and how he felt about his unattributed reuse. We don’t know what the woman he’s writing to said to him nor do we know what he said to others on the subject as writings by Kipling on “The Jungle Book” are extraordinarily rare. Still, being unable to remember where he lifted from and his casual tone implies that, at the very least, he was not too upset about his plagiarisms, if any existed. He clearly didn’t feel any infractions he might have made were too serious. This may, in part, be due to differing standards on attribution and reuse in the early 21st century versus the late 19th. Kipling wrote in what was a fundamentally different time. However, even then, most likely significant unattributed lifting would be seen as unethical, even if not as severe of a misstep. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we’ll know if there was any such plagiarism with any degree of certainty. It’s likely the works Kipling might have pulled from are lost to time, making it impossible to compare Kipling’s work against the original author’s. But while the admissions of Kipling are shocking, the insight the letter provides is limited, simply due to the lack of context.
In other literature news today, Alison Flood at The Guardian reports that award-winning poet David R. Morgan has been caught up in a plagiarism scandal, one that appears to have involved much of the work over his career. The scandal began when an American poet Charles O Hartman realized that Morgan’s poem “Dead Wife Singing” was nearly identical to his three-decades-old poem “A Little Song”. That prompted additional investigation into Morgan’s other works finding that many were often plagiarized. This included his award-winning poem “Monkey Stops Whistling”, which was nearly identical to a 1981 poem by Colin Morton, “Empty Bottles”. Morgan, for his part, has admitted to the plagiarism and posted an apology on his Facebook and sent the apology to many of the editors that published his work over the years. Publishers and magazines have been working to remove Morgan’s works from their sites and post corrections in their publications. This is not the first such scandal in the poetry community in recent memory. Earlier this year, UK poet Christian Ward was also found to have plagiarized lines and passages in his poems. This resulted in many of Ward’s honors and awards being revoked and corrections being applied to many of his published poems.
Analysis: Plagiarism in poetry has always been a difficult subject for many reasons. For one, it’s often difficult to determine what is and is not plagiarism in poetry, with so many images and ideas being common among different poems and so many formats and subjects being standard. For another, poems are often so short that determining plagiarism on word count alone is often difficult, if not impossible. However, the bigger problem is that poetry is meant to be an expression of one’s emotion and one’s true self, more so than other types of media. The emotional connection a poet shares with their work can make plagiarism seem more personal. The same goes for the audience, which may have connected deeply with the work, whether it’s the original or the plagiarism. Though plagiarism is felt deeply in other fields, such as the impact Jonah Lehrer had on journalism, poetry and other literature scandals can reach a more personal level, feeling akin to a betrayal than in other field. The UK poetry community has recently had to endure this betrayal not just once but twice so far this year. While the community will undoubtedly recover, it makes it clear that magazines and publications may want to begin looking into ways to approach the subject of plagiarism and prevent it from reaching their pages. After all, both of the poets involved were able to secure many publications and receive awards with plagiarized work. If the problem is severe enough that two separate poets could be successful for so long with that amount of plagiarism, it makes sense to try and find ways to prevent it from happening again.
Finally today, George Brennan at the Cape Cod Times reports that Rev. John McGinn, a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sandwich has been placed on administrative leave after it was revealed that 15 sermons of his were plagiarized direct copies from the subscription site Sermons.com. The St. John’s community was informed of the suspension on May 9th and the diocese is said to be working on a final agreement with McGinn, who has said that he plans to retire. McGinn led the small church for 17 years. The plagiarism allegations first rose against McGinn last year but McGinn assured the church authorities that it was an isolated incident and would not happen again. However, after further investigation, the church found other evidence of plagiarism. All of the sermons involved were not only published on the church’s site, but also in the church newsletter and were signed by McGinn. While the church looks for a replacement, it is working with the diocese to ensure that it can cover services and ceremonies.
Analysis: Plagiarism in sermons is still a difficult and emotionally-charged issue. There is huge debate regarding when it is acceptable to incorporate another’s words into your work, when to attribute it and how to give such credit. The debate about what is and is not acceptable varies from church to church and, often times, such discussions have to delve into other areas of religious debate. What is clear though is that, due to improving plagiarism detection technology and more widespread use of these tools, both congregations and church officials are becoming more aware of content reuse at the pulpit and are being increasingly confronted with these difficult questions. It’s important for religious institutions of all types to begin thinking about these issues and setting expectations for those put in positions of leadership. Though these issues are never easy, they’re much harder to deal with if you only start thinking of these challenges after something has happened. After all, the passions that come from a scandal only make it harder to find consensus and workable solutions. The time to set rules and guidelines is when things are quiet, so you can be ready for the possibility of a storm.