PLAGIARISTS PUBLISH AND PERISH


  • James P. Smith OBE FRCN

One of the great joys of being an editor of a scholarly journal such as the Journal of Advanced Nursing is receiving messages expressing delight from authors who have had their manuscripts accepted for publication.

From time to time, I also hear from them about the influence these publications have had on their subsequent career development, professionally and academically. Being able to cite a publication in the journal in a curriculum vitae is obviously a very valuable asset.

But, alas, occasionally, letters arrive at the editor’s office containing unpleasant news, accusing authors of plagiarism.

Plagiarists publish the written work of others and claim it as their own. Such activity is immoral, unethical and illegal. Plagiarists must have a death wish for their actions can result in professional suicide.

Copyright

Copyright is owned by the author of any written material, document or publication, whether it is a letter, book, seminar discussion paper or a paper published in a journal or newspaper. The copyright also includes any illustrations used by the author.

Copyright laws have been enacted to protect authors’ works and are accepted internationally to acknowledge the ownership of the written word. Copyright is vested in the original author but he/she may assign the copyright to others, e.g. publishers, or bequeath it in a will to designated literary executors.

No-one else is permitted to use the published work (including illustrations) of others without the written permission of the copyright owners, who may make a charge if permission is granted.

When authors cite the publications of others in their manuscripts it is essential that the original sources are clearly acknowledged both in the text and fully in the reference list appended to the manuscript. When direct quotations from another work are used, page numbers should also be included in the reference cited within the manuscript.

In discussions, critiques and reviews of literature, authors should indicate clearly their own views and differentiate them from the views and opinions of the authors they cite. They should never incorporate the words of others into their texts and claim — or imply — that they are their own words. Guard against that danger.

Authors should immerse themselves in the literature relevant to their scholarly interest and assess and discuss it in a polemical way. Refer only to primary literature sources: sometimes secondary sources may have used inaccurate citations.

If it is considered desirable — or essential — to quote extensively from another publication or to borrow (or modify) a figure or table published in another work, then written permission of the copyright owner must be sought in advance of publication. That is the personal responsibility of the author submitting the manuscript who must also pay any charges (if these are requested). Publishers will delay publication until appropriate permissions are obtained.

It is expected that all manuscripts submitted to the Journal of Advanced Nursing have been sent exclusively to the journal and are original papers. Authors are expected to have complied with ethical and copyright requirements.

The ‘publish or perish’ hysteria which is increasingly affecting professionals throughout the world appears to be encouraging some authors to submit multiple papers to a number of journals based on information obtained from the same piece of research. Clever and astute authors can manage that kind of activity with care and integrity. But multiple publications can also lead to copyright problems and instead of enhancing the author’s reputation, might just result in the opposite. Once a publication appears it is not possible to forget about it.

There have been a number of accusations of plagiarism made against a few authors whose work has been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Sadly, one of our guest editorials was published in its entirety (except for signature) in another journal without our permission, which made me very angry at the time.

Although, since the launch of the journal in 1976, the incidences of plagiarism brought to my attention have been few, I sometimes fear that they merely represent the tip of the iceberg.

Accusations of plagiarism have been sent to me by shocked and irate readers and angry and aggrieved authors. Each accusation is fully investigated with objectivity and integrity and in a spirit of social justice. This inevitably involves the editorial and publishing staff in a great deal of extra — and unwelcome — work. It is not a pleasant duty but we have a special responsibility to preserve the standing of scholarship.

Consequences of plagiarism

As a general rule, editors and publishers will acknowledge plagiarism in their publications and publish an apology when plagiarism has been proven. Inevitably, the plagiarist is identified in the published apology.

But the matter, sadly, does not always end there. Suspicion is sometimes directed at graduate qualifications awarded to plagiarists. Plagiarised publications will certainly not be accepted by tenure committees. Even the present job held by an identified plagiarist may be threatened. Furthermore, once a plagiarist’s activity has been advertised, editors and publishers everywhere will be very reluctant to consider any future manuscripts an identified plagiarist might wish to publish.

When plagiarism occurs editors have to placate the plagiarised and to counsel the plagiarist. It can be an unpleasant, distressing and messy business. Plagiarists may well have to live under a cloud of suspicion for part or for the rest of their professional and/or academic lives.

Authors must be expected to have integrity. Teachers and academic supervisors must be particularly vigilant and our readers must certainly continue to be alert to the potential problem of plagiarism.

Avoid plagiarism like the plague. Do not be tempted to plagiarise the works of others. It is simply not worth it, for plagiarists will certainly publish and perish.

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