Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Ugly World of Plagiarism

Science is based on the honesty and integrity of its practitioners.  Even a small fraction of dishonest acts such as fudging data or plagiarism can be very costly.  As such, we all need to be vigilant to punish those who break the rules.

This hit close to home when over a decade ago, one of my papers was plagiarized.  (Click here for an example of how an academic who had plagiarized my work was punished by loosing his job.) I was impressed by the actions taken by the journal that had received the tainted manuscript, and the administrators at the perpetrator's institution who took decisive actions.

Just this morning, I got a letter from a colleague who just discovered that a paper recently appeared in a prestigious journal that basically copied his work and lifted whole sections from his previous paper without acknowledging him or citing his papers.  He wanted my opinion on the topic, and here was my response:

Dear Prof. Colleague,

Plagiarism is a horrible corruption of the scientific process, that like a cancer, could compromise science if it is not dealt with vigilance.  You might want to check out my case ( to see how I responded and how the ordeal was settled.  In your case, the other paper has already appeared, and journals might be reluctant to accuse the offending parties in fear of a lawsuit.  In my case, the act of plagiarism was caught by an astute postdoc that reviewed the offending manuscript and alerted the editor before it was published.

If I were to find myself in your situation, I would probably contact both Journal A and Journal B editors to get their opinion on a course of action that they are willing to take.  At minimum,Journal A  should at least print some sort of correction that includes citations to your work.  That way, you would at least get credit in the citation indices.  You might also want to write the authors to confront them; but, you may want to check with your university's legal department first.

Note that I was not able to open the links to the papers since one was to a server from your university that requires a password.  However, from your description, I think that you should take action.

Thanks for sending me a copy of your pre-print on two-photon absorption.  This is a beautiful paper that I would like to read carefully when I have some more time.  Once the paper appears, can you send me a copy?  Since it will undoubtedly be very useful to my group, I want to add it to my database of references.  I have skimmed through the manuscript and was wondering if you took cascading into account and if the concentration dependence might be telling you something about it.  I apologize in advance if this is a stupid question based on my cursory reading.

Finally, have you given any thought to hosting a "sum rules and scaling" meeting at your university?  I am thinking about keeping it small, perhaps with a dozen attendees, so that we could concentrate on bouncing around new ideas.  Let me know your thoughts.

Always glad to hear from you, though it would have been better under happier circumstances.  Keep in touch.