Time for a change in the understanding of what constitutes text plagiarism?

Research Ethics 10 (4):187-195 (2014)
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Plagiarism is plaguing research publications in many fields. It is problematic by being misleading about who deserves credit for scientific results, images, text or ideas, by involving scientific fraud and by distorting meta-analyses. However, different research traditions put different emphasis on the originality of text. Traditional rules regarding correct quotation seem to fit the humanities and many social sciences better than the natural and engineering sciences. This article suggests that we should stop applying a common standard regarding plagiarism to all research fields and instead openly acknowledge that there are differences in what aspects of a paper are important to scientific development in different research areas. More specifically, the article discusses, as a thought experiment, whether the introduction of software supporting text production for research publications in the natural and engineering sciences – thereby further reducing the importance of who created what sentences – would be unacceptable or, quite the reverse, a means to further promote scientific progress. It is concluded that there are no valid principled arguments against introducing such software support for text production in scientific papers, while there are several advantages. Correctly handled, using such software would not involve plagiarism, because it would not be misleading about who deserves credit



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