“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.”
Plagiarism is an enormous issue for researchers, because the currency exchanged is not dollars and cents, but recognition, respect, and – most importantly – tenure.
Plagiarism is more complicated than simply copying and pasting someone else’s work. Practices such as: parsing and paraphrasing someone else’s ideas and pretending they are yours; conflating reference sources; and inaccurately citing sources, deliberately or inadvertently, are all forms of plagiarism.
Perhaps you’ve run out of fresh ideas: Remanufacturing your own work can also be seen as a type of plagiarism. For this post, I can reference my earlier blog post when I spoke to Ken Smith with ISSCC about students “cooperating” with each other. But if I were to rehash the same ideas and pretend they were new? That would be a problem. That problem is known as self-plagiarism, re-use or repetitive research. Here’s another form of the same problem: once research has been peer-reviewed by one society, it cannot simply be resubmitted to another.
Although no system is foolproof, Mira provides the necessary tools to help identify this type of behavior. Once an abstract is submitted through the Mira platform, associations have the option of using Ithenticate’s verification process within Mira’s program. Ithenticate has the most extensive research and scientific database available today, with the ability to perform keyword and phrase searches on millions of articles.
Technology certainly makes verification of original work much simpler and swifter that the tedious fact-checking of the past. Still, because plagiarism takes so many different forms, violations slip by even when all participants have nothing to gain from an ethical breach. A case in point: the new Forever Stamp, issued by the Postal Service on April 7.
The stamp commemorates the late writer, activist and actress, Maya Angelou, and features her photograph alongside the quotation “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” The quote has long been attributed to Angelou, in part because it’s vaguely mirrored in the title of her most famous work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her 1969 autobiography. Incidentally, Angelou took her title verbatim from the last line of the poem “Sympathy,” written by Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1899.
Angelou echoed the line quoted on the stamp often in interviews, blogs and other public forums. President Obama attributed it to her at an awards ceremony in 2013. But the truth is, Angelou didn’t write these words. Author Joan Walsh Anglund did, in 1967, two years before Angelou’s autobiography. Anglund wrote, “A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, he sings because he has a song,” in her book of poetry, A Cup of Sun. Jabari Asim, an author and professor at Emerson College, brought the misattribution to the attention of The Washington Post, where he previously worked as an editor. (1)
Joan Walsh Anglund graciously told The Washington Post that although she originally penned the words, she understands how Angelou might have appropriated them. “But I think it easily happens sometimes that people hear something, and it’s kind of going into your subconscious and you don’t realize it,” Anglund, 89, said in an interview with The Post’s Lonnae O’Neal. (2)
As a final note, it’s no small irony that there is not a single source for the quote at the top of the page.
1. O’Neal, Lonnae, The Washington Post, April 4, 2015, “Maya Angelou’s new stamp uses a quote that may not be entirely hers.”
2. O’Neal, Lonnae, The Washington Post, April 6, 2015, “Book author Joan Walsh Anglund says of Angelou stamp: ‘That’s my quote.'”