Scholarly Writing, Plagiarism and Academic Corruption

Prof. Douglass
Richard L. Douglass*

Once upon a time it was possible to read something published in a scholarly journal, take a moment to think about it, and marvel at the ingenuity and insights that the author revealed.  In the past it was this experience that drew us into communities of scholars, scientists, and academics to share ideas, discoveries, innovative methods for research, and to challenge each other in the pursuit of truth and the expansion of knowledge.  Such peer-reviewed publication celebrated our lives of science and demanded a level of intellectual accountability that distinguished the scholarly world from other endeavors.
Our academic community is at risk.  It is not from some mutant bacteria, or global warming, but from a more insidious threat within every institution of learning.  Plagiarism -- cheating and claiming another’s work as one’s own -- is simply too easy for the weak or nefarious to ignore.  The technology of the Internet, millions of websites, ghost-writing, and online academic journal proliferation provide fertile fields from which to reap pages, paragraphs, bibliography, and even fictitious co-authors in the pursuit of publication. In my teaching, and as I review manuscript submissions for several peer-reviewed journals, it has become obvious that we are facing an era of plagiarism of epic proportions. It is frightening. It is theft of intellectual property. It is wrong.
What the corrupted authors apparently do not understand is that it is just as easy to identify plagiarism when the sources are stolen from the Internet as it is to steal material in the first place. I find it astonishing that, even when confronted with evidence of plagiarism, some students and would-be authors deny that it is true.  Recently, one of my undergraduates submitted a research paper to me.  The first sentence of the first paragraph was very familiar to me; it was the same sentence that began an article by a colleague at a nearby university!  I looked at the reference page and was surprised to see my colleague’s article listed.  But in the text was no indication that the sentence was lifted from a published source and no specific citation in the text that linked the sentence to the source.  The student took the sentence as his own.  When confronted, the student said that he did not know any better.
When we face such situations, we must have the will to defend the precious world of scholarly writing and publication that has always been our intellectual life source. We must confront offenders with an ethical position that leaves no room for stealing the ideas and words of our peers. The stakes are high if we fail to set a high standard for intellectual integrity in publication; our disciplines will become populated by fakes and frauds who will drive us down at a time when the world needs what we do best.  We do the discovery, the innovation and the intellectual risk-taking to explore the unknown.  If we cannot publish with confidence that our work is protected from plagiarism through active and aggressive peer-review, then we risk our credibility.  If we cannot read with assurance that the named authors actually did the work, then we do not know who has expertise and ability or who is a common thief.

Link to comments on plagiarism by the Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND.

*Richard L. Douglass is a Professor of Health Administration at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA.  He is also a visiting professor at the Great Lakes University of Kisumu, Kisumu, Kenya and Ashesi University-College, in Accra, Ghana.  He has previously held faculty positions at The University of Michigan and Wayne State University, both in Michigan. Professor Douglass is a member of the Editorial Review Boards of the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development and the Michigan Journal of Public Health.  He is a manuscript reviewer for several other journals including the African Journal for Community Health and Development, The American Journal of Public Health, The Gerontologist, and The Michigan Academician.