Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Writing Scientific Papers – The problems with copy-and-paste and its derivations

Last month, I was reviewing a reuse paper for an important conference and I had a Déjà vu feeling about that one. Performing a more rigorous search on the author’s publication me and my colleagues in the RiSE group could identify the problem. The paper was about 80 percent similar to the previous one, and, that was one of the problems, since the authors did not cite the previous paper in the references list. Our decision was to notify the conference chair about the problem and the paper was discarded. We believe that this problem is increasing in the community in general [IEEE reported that 14 papers in 2004, 26 in 2005, and 47 in 2006 had this problem] and based on this fact, I started an analysis in this direction. For us, it was good because we discovered that the computer society is working hard in this direction.

The Institute, a journal published by the IEEE Spectrum Magazine,Vol. 31, No. 01, March 2007, discussed this aspect very well with [read the full paper here] some data which we should share. According to them, in a recent U.S. survey released by the Center for Academic Integrity involving 50.000 undergraduates shows that the problem is increasing. According to the center, 10 percent admitted to plagiarizing in 1999, whereas almost 40 percent said they did so in 2005. Additionally, in the last year, 21 mechanical engineering graduates from Ohio University, in Athens, were found to have plagiarized their master’s and doctoral theses [that is incredible!], and others at the school are now under investigation.

The IEEE is working to decrease this problem [see the plagiarism guidelines page]. The institute has developed some sanctions for plagiarists that range from sending a letter of apology to being banned from publishing with the IEEE for up to five years. Other solutions include tools such as Turnitin which checks papers against other manuscripts submitted via Turnitin, tutorials and flowchart that illustrates the process used to investigate a plagiarism complain.

Some professors believe that the Internet can be the roots for this problem. I agree with them in some sense, but I think that the problem is more related to a more formal education and mentoring with these students. We know that the professors have a lot of things to do, but in my opinion, this problem can be reduced in the base working in this direction in high schools and universities during scientific activities until a master or doctoral program. I agree with Professor Michael Hoffman when he said: “before students begin to write, I go over our institute’s rules of conduct, how to cite a source, and what makes a good scientific writing”. Michael's students, after understanding it, must sign a document stating that they understand the rules. I believe that we can work in some levels before writing letters like this one. But, here, just the future could show it. By the way, our work is to keep our attention with this problem.


Carlos Cunha said...

I think problems with plagiarism, not only with scientific papers, are related to ethical issues. It deals with respects for those who spent time researching, or doing any kind of work, and deserve recognition for thy work. Therefore, no matter how many different ways shall be use to prevent and punish plagiarism, it all depends whether we can act with respect with each other.

Daniel Lucrédio said...

Here in George Mason University, where I am staying as a visiting researcher, there is a Honor Code, where plagiarism appears as one of the main violations. There is a committee for evaluating each case, and the penalties vary from oral reprimand to recommendation of expulsion, which will be recorded in the student's scholastic record.

Eduardo Almeida said...

Lucrédio, yes, U.S. and Europe in general is working in this direction. There is also the Code of Ethics for Researchers. In Brazil, Prof. Paulo Masiero has an effort in Ethics for computer science in general. However, what we can see is that this problem is increasing. Moreover, these are just the published problems. I believe that there are more cases do not published what sure is terrible for us.