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A Researcher's Perspective: There Should Be Zero Plagiarism in Research

Posted by Jessica Gopalakrishnan on Dec 7, 2013 9:05:00 AM

While peer reviewing a manuscript, post-doctoral fellow Costas Lyssiotis at Weill Cornell discovered an instance of plagiarism -- his own work appearing in the paper. To confirm his suspicions, he used iThenticate to screen the paper and identify the original sources. In what way was it plagiarized, and how was it handled? Watch this short video to hear the full story.

Watch the discussion (6:23 minutes):

A Researcher's Perspective: There Should Be Zero Plagiarism in Research

iTHENTICATE:    Today I am pleased to introduce Costas Lyssiotis.  Did I sCLyssiotisay that right?

LYSSIOTIS:    It’s close.  It’s Costas Lyssiotis.

iTHENTICATE:    Hi, welcome!

LYSSIOTIS:    Hi, thanks.  Glad to be here.  Glad to be with you.

iTHENTICATE:    How about we start off by asking you a little bit more about your role, just to put more perspective about what you do?

LYSSIOTIS:    Certainly.  I am a postdoctoral fellow.  I study pancreatic cancer metabolism.  I work at Weill Cornell.  The reason I came to iThenticate was I was asked to review a paper in my discipline and I had suspected that there may be plagiarism in the manuscript, but there was no really thorough for me to go about checking.  I tried a few online services that were free and they left a lot to be desired.  And I was on the Elsevier website.  They have a link to you guys.  I saw that you could do a one-time shot for $50 and I gave it a go.

iTHENTICATE:    Do you currently have a grant or particular research or study you’re working on?

LYSSIOTIS:    Certainly.  We have several grants that fund our efforts.  We work on pancreatic cancer and our efforts are really aimed at understanding how these tumors differ metabolically from a normal pancreas.  So we study how they uptake and utilize different carbohydrates and different amino acids, with the goal ultimately being to develop an understanding of the differences in metabolism between normal and cancerous so that we can find new therapies and new targets.

iTHENTICATE:    Let's talk a bit more about the reason why you used iThenticate.  Why did it seem like it [the questionable content] was out of context?  What sparked you to want to check it?

LYSSIOTIS:    I actually identified some of my own writing in the manuscript that was under review, which made it a little bit easier for me to recognize.  After which I figured if it was some of my own writing, that there was probably others.  That’s what really brought me to iThenticate.  Even though it was really disappointing circumstances, it proved to be very fruitful because now I know about what you guys have available.  And if it’s really true that Cornell could license iThenticate for secondary users like myself, that would be great.  But I proposed an even -- this might be difficult to implement, but I had proposed a different solution in that we somehow or another get the journals to run such software on maybe not even necessarily every manuscript, but one in ten that is submitted, so as to put fear into people that if they’re plagiarizing, that there is the chance that their work is going to be picked up and recognized on the front end before -- and I think in such a way that would completely eliminate the issue.

iTHENTICATE:    Yes, I absolutely agreed; good point. [see CrossCheck] What's your opinion about plagiarism in your field as a whole?  Do you think it’s a growing problem?

LYSSIOTIS:    To be honest with you, I don't think it’s an enormous problem especially in the higher tier journals where I like to think I publish with some regularity.  You mentioned there were several different types of plagiarism.  I guess when I'm referring to plagiarism here I’m really just thinking of one of two types.  That is, either copying someone else’s writing verbatim and then publishing it as if it were you own.  And then there’s the other issue of self-plagiarism, which to me isn’t entirely clear when that is okay and is not if you can republish your own.  So maybe we can discuss that in a second.  But in the case of the first, the only time I've really seen that or experienced that is in reviews and they tend to be in lower tier reviews.  So I don't know if it’s necessarily a huge problem, but it should be zero; so any instances of plagiarism is a problem.

iTHENTICATE:    I think that much of it has to do with attribution.  There are different types of plagiarism, meaning there are different ways of getting into an ethical situation, but if you attribute it, if you give a citation, then it increases your chances of avoiding it [a plagiarism allegation].

LYSSIOTIS:    The manuscript that I was set to review, they actually cited the work that they were directly plagiarizing.  So in the example where my work was directly plagiarized, they had a direct quotation without quotation marks of my work, after which the citation was there.  It’s not that they were trying to take credit for it per say; they were attributing the finding work that we had done.  But what they did is they took the text directly, and in that way they weren’t really providing the reader of the review with anything new, which is the purpose of a review is to take all the information on a particular topic, digest it and present in a way that’s new and informative.  And that clearly wasn’t being done in this case.  I don't know exactly how it’s defined but, like you said, where it is attributed, but it’s not necessarily their own original idea.

iTHENTICATE:    What do you think are the repercussions, the consequences as it pertains to other researchers in your field or in the industry as a whole?

LYSSIOTIS:    The repercussions in terms of plagiarism existing, or in terms of people getting caught plagiarizing?


LYSSIOTIS:    In the case of the former, it’s cheating.  If you're plagiarizing you're not putting in the hard work that’s necessary to come up with your own ideas, etc.  So it’s unfair to everyone who is -- to everyone else who isn’t cheating.  It’s like bankers cheating with how money is being shuffled around, or any instance of cheating.  That’s how I view it.  In terms of how should the plagiarizer be dealt with, that’s not entirely clear to me because, for example in this instance I continue to refer to, no one other than this one particular journal and the group of researchers that had plagiarized in this review will anyone else ever know about it.  So I think it will just kind of get washed under the rug.  But, like I said, if we were to somehow find a way to employ a strategy where all journals always did it, then no one would ever do it and they wouldn't have to worry about anonymity and only a few people would be aware.  There’s another way that you can use iThenticate that I hadn’t thought about initially, and that is before you are to ever submit a manuscript you could run it through iThenticate if you had enough access to the software.  And in that way you could find out if there was any way of accidental plagiarism because you used wording that was just so similar or something of that nature; or if your colleagues wrote something then you could run it through iThenticate so as to be comfortable that your reputation would be saved.  So I could see it being useful both on the front end and on the back end of the review process.

iTHENTICATE:    I wish you all the luck with your research on pancreatic cancer.

LYSSIOTIS:    Thank you.

ITHENTICATE:    That’s definitely a noble cause.

LYSSIOTIS:    It’s a tough one.

ITHENTICATE:    We look forward to speaking with you again soon.

LYSSIOTIS:    Sounds good.