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Croatian Academics Fight Back Against Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on May 5, 2017 9:44:01 AM

Plagiarism has been a hot topic in Croatia over the past few months.

In October 2016, local media began to report that newly appointed science minister, Pavo Barišić, had plagiarized in a 2008 paper published in a local journal. He was accused of having plagiarized content from various English authors including Samuel Huntington, Carl Boggs and Stephen Schlesinger as well as pulling from Wikipedia.

However, the allegations were old, having been originally raised in 2011 by four of his colleagues. At the time, two separate ethics boards reviewed the case and cleared Barišić’s name.
But, with the allegations coming to light again, the country’s parliament-appointed Committee for Ethics in Science and Higher Education (CESHE), which had been inactive from 2011 to 2014,  promised it would investigate. However, even that investigation was tainted by resignation of Vlatko Silobrčić, the now-former head of CESHE,
over allegations that the Croatian government was trying to pressure them to drop the case.

Despite the resignation, the investigation continued and, on January 9, 2017, the committee’s results were leaked to the press.

While the CESHE did find that Barišić had copied text without attribution, it did not agree on whether or not it constituted plagiarism. This finding echoed a change in Barišić’s tone, switching from believing that he had done nothing wrong to admitting that he had copied without attribution but referring to it as a “typographic error”.

This stands in opposition to the opinion of Schlesinger, one of the plagiarized, who said in an interview with Chemistry world that “They should have been set in quotations and footnoted. Thus, however brief, they fulfill the definition of plagiarism.”

But while the story has made unwelcome international headlines for Croatia, its academic community is standing up on the issue and calling on the country to do more to combat the issue.

Tomislav Pletenac, a professor of ethnology and cultural anthropology at Zagreb’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has told Balkan Insight that the system of tracking and sanctioning those who commit plagiarism is not functioning.

According to Pletenac, the system “was never implemented properly” and that the issue “can put a stigma on the whole profession or community.”

He went on to say that the issue should be dealt with “literally without mercy.”

For Pletenac, and other academics in the country, it is a problem not of widespread plagiarism, but of a few bad actors marring the reputation for others and then escaping punishment. He also says that he believes the problem is region wide. 

But while academics speaking out against plagiarism may seem to be a small step, especially in the face of allegations of government involvement, it not only serves to highlight the good researchers working within the country but also start the conversation toward finding a solution.

While systems that codify plagiarism can be difficult to tear down, they can’t withstand the weight of their academic community. As we’ve seen in Germany and other nations, when academics band together to fight plagiarism, they can often make great strides in very short periods of time.

Hopefully that is what lies ahead for Croatia as well.