January 25, 2014

The wages of plagiarism

The 17th century translators of the Bible warned that “the wages of sin is death.” This week, the editor of a leading innovation journal announced that the wages of plagiarism (including self-plagiarism) will be banishment.

The lead editorial in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Product Innovation Management was entitled simply “Plagiarism.” It was written by Gloria Barczak, who became editor a year ago. According to Wiley, it was posted to the JPIM website on Friday.

After noting the journal’s concern with plagiarism and providing a definition, Barczak moved on to the issue that (regular readers will recall) cancelled five JPIM articles related to open innovation:
An even thornier issue concerns self-plagiarism. Some argue that self-plagiarism is not real. How can one plagiarize her/himself if s/he wrote the original text and includes it in a new work? iThenticate (2013) defines self-plagiarism as: “a type of plagiarism in which the writer republishes a work in its entirety or reuses portions of a previously written text while authoring a new work.” There is an ethical issue here, in that in many cases, authors have signed copyright agreements that give the publisher ownership of the material. Thus, reusing large portions of text from a previously published work, even if written by you, can be viewed as copyright infringement.
Since August 1, JPIM has checked for plagiarism and self-plagiarism via CrossCheck iThenticate. As with a professor using Turnitin for student papers, the editor manually reviews any paper where the software identifies a high degree of reuse.

And as with student plagiarism — a subject where I’ve had more experience that I’d like over the past 15+ years — there is a need to assess what degree of reuse is acceptable and what is not. Barczak writes:
The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE; Wager, 2011) has developed a typology of different types of plagiarism from less severe (e.g., a few words copied, source cited, no intention to deceive) to most severe (e.g., several paragraphs/whole paper copied, source not referenced, intention to deceive). Thus, an editor has to use her/his judgment as to how to deal with a particular situation. To date, I have desk-rejected papers for high levels of similarity that copy generously from published sources and that don’t reference those sources. In a few cases, I have sent queries to several authors asking for an explanation of their high similarity rating and advised them of how to fix the issue.
In addition to her own efforts, Barczak called upon JPIM reviewers to help detect plagiarism.

While the journal will reject papers that fail its standards, the consequences for later detection are much more severe:
Our policy for plagiarism or other academic misconduct discovered after the article in question has been accepted or published in this journal is as follows:

1st offense – 5-year ban from publishing in JPIM
2nd offense – 10-year ban from publishing in JPIM
3rd offense – lifetime ban
In an era where a few journals seem uninterested in investigating (let alone sanctioning) probable cases of academic misconduct, the clarity of JPIM’s leadership (like that of Research Policy) is refreshing.

If I have any criticism of either journal, it’s that Wiley and Elsevier have (respectively) hidden these important policy statements behind a paywall, valuing their business model over wide dissemination of their stance on academic integrity.