30 May 2013

The problem of plagiarism

One of the most difficult things an journal editor has to deal with is plagiarism, which is often difficult to spot in a casual read-through – which is why, in Information Research, we specifically ask reviewers to check for plagiarism. I receive an alert from Google Scholar giving information on papers that cite my publications. One of these was a paper published in the DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology – “Information Seeking and Searching Behaviour of Dental Science Professionals in Karnataka, by U. Umesha and M. Chandrashekara Here I found two paragraphs where my words had been used without being placed within inverted commas, to indicate that they were in fact quotations. When this is done, the assumption is that the words are those of the authors themselves and, when they are not, the result is referred to as plagiarism. One of the offending pieces reads:
Information Searching Behaviour [3] is the ‘micro-level’ behaviour employed by the searcher in interacting with information systems of all kinds, it may be a human computer interaction (use of the mouse and clicks on links) or at the intellectual level (adopting a Boolean search strategy or determining the criteria for deciding relevant one) involve mental acts, such as judging the relevance of data or information retrieved. Information use behaviour, consists of the physical and mental acts involved in incorporating the information found into the person's existing knowledge base. It may involve, therefore, physical acts such as marking sections in a text to note their importance or significance, as well as mental acts that involve, for example, comparison of new information with existing knowledge [3].
These are entirely my words found in the paper referenced, which appeared in Informing Science. Consequently, to avoid the charge of plagiarism, the authors needed to make this clear by the use of quotation marks, as follows:
"Information Searching Behaviour is the ‘micro-level’ behaviour employed by the searcher... comparison of new information with existing knowledge" [3].
Why is this small distinction (the use of the inverted commas) important? Simply because anyone reading this paper and citing it may use part of the text in a paper of their own and attribute the words to the authors, rather than to the originator. I would not have raised this issue publicly but for the fact that I wrote to the editor, in a friendly way, acknowledging that it was difficult for an editor to spot these kinds of offences, and suggesting that, as the journal is electronic, it is an easy matter to make the correction and to notify the authors that this has been done. The editor failed to respond, and also failed to respond to a follow-up message a few weeks later.

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