Idea Plagiarism, Paraphrasing, and Quotation Marks

by Praveen Chaddah A clever change of words, or paraphrasing, allows an idea to be plagiarized without detection by plagiarism-check software. Those who cannot manipulate words get the so-called ‘7-word jitters’. Standards being imposed require them to use quotation marks. This requirement is being used by hobbyists and political opponents to seek retraction, or withholding of publication. As I pointed out in my ‘World View’ in Nature in July 2014, the other original contributions in the retracted or withheld work could have new claimants! Is there a uniform imposition of this requirement of quotation marks even from the developed world? In a note a few days back I have described three instances when corrections were published in a journal of the American Physical Society (APS) because ideas had been used without necessary credit to papers on which I was an author. In none of these cases were the corrected versions released. Readers usually download the errant versions without simultaneous download of the corrections. My requests to ensure by software that corrections must be simultaneously downloaded have been ignored. In one of these corrections it was stated “…the text of our paper, including most of the second column of page 2, and the first full paragraph of page 3, is very closely correlated with text which also appears in reference 10.” The closely correlated text, an interesting euphemism, extends over about 500 words. Was a version with quotation marks considered necessary? Another correction, involving a different paper, apologized because a whole section was built on our idea, and the paper did not cite us at all. This errant section concluded with “The CHUF experimental protocol, clearly showing the devitrification of the arrested state, thus gives unambiguous and rather visual evidence of the coexisting phases in the magnetic glass state.” A different group from Germany published a paper in 2013 in a journal of the American Institute of Physics which used CHUF and reported such visual evidence in a new material. It cited the errant APS paper, but ignored our original contribution. Should the correction mechanism of APS not honestly ensure implementation? There are other instances involving me, and there would be many instances involving other Indian researchers, where ideas of Indian scientists are plagiarised by foreign bylines but they do not show up in plagiarism-check software because of clever word changes. There are many occasions when foreign authors cite our unrelated papers (other than those from which the idea is taken) as a defense that our contribution is being acknowledged. We have no mechanism, and display no collective pride, to ensure that such acts are corrected. The developed world is imposing very demanding standards that would ensure that our students’ theses are full of quotation marks, while their institutions do not ensure effective corrections when we are victims of plagiarism. As I shall discuss separately, we are now implementing mechanisms indicating we are bending backwards to an era when “they asked us to bend, but we chose to crawl”.

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