Friday, August 30, 2013

When plagiarism is concerned

Plagiarism according to Wikipedia, and I directly quote ''Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work. The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules.'' I am writing mostly in context to plagiarism in scientific research. In the past there have been many cases where texts from published work have been wilfully copied or the complete work has been reproduced. There have been investigations and some action taken etc etc. Those things are in the past and the effort has to be in the direction to curb such incidents. In that direction, many ethics code of conduct have been formulated and enforced. Still an area remains where accountability, when caught in the act, is always enforced on the junior authors or graduate students. The latest case being of Prof. CNR Rao where the blame was conveniently passed on to the PhD student ( even though the senior authors claimed to be the corresponding authors or lead authors. This is just one case which got highlighted in the media due to the stature of the people involved. So, the question to ask is what are the remedies against such incidents. IIT Bombay in this regard took a step in the form of signed ''Honour code"   but it was only a half hearted attempt as far as it is evident from the news item. It says that student have been asked to sign such an honour code. My question here is, why only the students who in most cases follow the whims and fancies of their supervisors, not out of intellectual or creative deficiency but due to a system which demands complete obedience, were asked to sign such a code. How the system demands that obedience can be a subject of another write up. If any system is serious about stopping plagiarism then all the players concerned should be asked to follow a strict code of ethics. It is not enough just to ask one particular section of the community to be accountable while another goes scot free. When a work is published and appreciated the major chunk of appreciation is reserved for the corresponding author or the lead author but when some wrong doing is caught every trick in the book is applied to pass the buck on somebody else. In this regard I would like to cite this scandal and would like to point at few of the first comments in the post. Just for the record I will quote a few of the comments here before finishing this write up. 

Argument: I personally know the 1st author and would like to believe this never happened. But i guess we’ll have to wait for the U investigation. It will be very hard to see if prof takes any responsibility. I don’t think the student would have the courage to do this without prof knowing it or him forcing them to do it. Maybe this part of the issues will never come out in open.
Counter argument: I know Dr. Pease as well and am surprised he would be involved in something like this. My personal opinion is his student did it and Dr. Pease didn’t catch it (although one could argue that he should have). I guess we’ll see what the investigation determines.