hypervalent_iodine

Academic plagiarism

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Working on a review article on a plane today, I discovered that an existing review published in 2011 contains at least two substantial paragraphs copied almost verbatim from another paper by another group that I happened to have just finished reading. There is probably more, based on a cursory glance of other sections. The review in question is a very well-cited review in a high impact factor journal, and written rather surprisingly (to me, at least) by a group at Pfizer. 

Having never been in this situation before, I am unsure of what the usual course of action is (especially since it's a review, and partly on a topic I am covering)? If nothing else, I assume there must be copyright issues with reproducing work published in another journal? Should it be reported to the journal? 

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The honourable thing to have done would to have cited it properly. I think you are part of the ongoing, informal peer review process and should report it.

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I'm sure both the original journal and authors would want to know.

Don't journals use software like turnitin to detect plagiarism? It's scary how accurate that is.

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There usually is a copyright issue, yes, plus academic dishonesty. This kind of thing crops up on Retraction Watch fairly often (there's a whole category for plagiarism). I think the usual course of action is to email the editors of the journals with the evidence. The Committee on Publication Ethics even publishes a flowchart on how editors should respond to plagiarism notifications from readers.

2 minutes ago, Prometheus said:

Don't journals use software like turnitin to detect plagiarism? It's scary how accurate that is.

Maybe some big commercial publishers do, but none of the publishers I've submitted to do, as far as I know.

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I would boot it up the ladder.  The only time I have ever completely abdicated responsibility was - in what I see as a similar situation but in business rather than academe - when I uncovered some internal corruption. Things like this can taint the blameless - and sometimes the first person who sticks their head above the parapet gets shot. 

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5 hours ago, imatfaal said:

I would boot it up the ladder.  The only time I have ever completely abdicated responsibility was - in what I see as a similar situation but in business rather than academe - when I uncovered some internal corruption. Things like this can taint the blameless - and sometimes the first person who sticks their head above the parapet gets shot. 

This was my thinking also, and the only reason for hesitation. I have emailed my boss, who is also an author on my review.

6 hours ago, Cap'n Refsmmat said:

There usually is a copyright issue, yes, plus academic dishonesty. This kind of thing crops up on Retraction Watch fairly often (there's a whole category for plagiarism). I think the usual course of action is to email the editors of the journals with the evidence. The Committee on Publication Ethics even publishes a flowchart on how editors should respond to plagiarism notifications from readers.

Maybe some big commercial publishers do, but none of the publishers I've submitted to do, as far as I know.

Those are helpful links, thanks. My instinct was of course to contact the editor of the journal, but I quickly felt a little out of my depth upon thinking about it.

What strikes me is that this review has around 300 citations. I find it hard to believe that I am the only person to have noticed it, especially since the paragraph references the paper they plagiarised from. Seems bizarre to me. I'm going to put it through Turnitin when I get in to work tomorrow to check the rest of it. 

 

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47 minutes ago, hypervalent_iodine said:

I find it hard to believe that I am the only person to have noticed it, especially since the paragraph references the paper they plagiarised from.

Ick. That's the kind of situation where they claim they "improperly quoted" and it's fine because they referenced the original paper, despite passing off its words as their own without any indication. Hopefully the editors don't tolerate that kind of plagiarism.

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It depends on the relevance of the passage and where it appears. Some commonly used phrases used in the introduction or methods section tend to get rehashed eventually. However, in a review this probably more of an issue. It depends on whether there are a handful of uncredited passages that are otherwise inconsequential or whether the whole paper is a cut and paste job, for example. As already said, let your adviser deal with it. 

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1 hour ago, CharonY said:

It depends on the relevance of the passage and where it appears. Some commonly used phrases used in the introduction or methods section tend to get rehashed eventually. However, in a review this probably more of an issue. It depends on whether there are a handful of uncredited passages that are otherwise inconsequential or whether the whole paper is a cut and paste job, for example. As already said, let your adviser deal with it. 

The phrase was what rang bells for me, but I'm talking about two large pragraphs, 99 % identical to two paragraphs from another paper, written as though it was their own. I'm going to look more thoroughly at the rest of it when I have time later to assess how extensive it actually is, if for nothing else than my own curiosity. 

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It is a bit odd, as one would assume that in a review a bit more synthesis would be done. I presume the authors were not connected in any way? Either way, my advice is do not get directly involved or named in this. At your stage you are very vulnerable, leave it to your advisor. Depending on the respective relationship typically the original author and/or chief editor are the obvious contact persons to submit the info.

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5 minutes ago, CharonY said:

It is a bit odd, as one would assume that in a review a bit more synthesis would be done. I presume the authors were not connected in any way? Either way, my advice is do not get directly involved or named in this. At your stage you are very vulnerable, leave it to your advisor. Depending on the respective relationship typically the original author and/or chief editor are the obvious contact persons to submit the info.

I couldn't find any connection between them. Thanks for the advice. The boss has been contacted about it and I will try and chase him up tomorrow, though I suspect his response will be to not rock the boat and ignore it.

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I suppose, if you're worried about being dragged into a fight, the backup option is an anonymous comment on a site like PubPeer. Their commenters have forced a lot of retractions by finding image duplication and manipulation in published articles. The system will notify authors of your comment on your behalf.

I've previously written to journal editors about a major error in a paper, though not one arising from misconduct. They seemed confused about what to do, and apparently had never published a letter to the editor before. I expect the reaction would have been more confused if I had alleged misconduct.

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