Intelligent plagiarists are the most dangerous

How should we tackle the increasing problem of researchers rewriting others' results?

Sir

In your News story “Plagiarism in Cambridge physics lab prompts calls for guidelines” (Nature 427, 3; 2004) and your Editorial “Complacency about misconduct” (Nature 427, 1; 200410.1038/427001a), journals were criticized for not responding appropriately to plagiarism.

In my work as one of the editors of Physica Scripta, I have in recent years seen an increasing number of attempts at blatant plagiarism. For example, in 1973 I was one of five authors of a paper published in Physica Scripta (7, 241–249; 1973). Many years later an almost identical paper appeared in the Indian Journal of Pure and Applied Physics (36, 273–279; 1998), where the main difference was that our names had been replaced by the names of two other authors.

However upsetting this may be, I believe that such naive plagiarism is not a significant threat to confidence in science, because such behaviour will ultimately have limited success.

What is worse, in my opinion, but was not discussed in these Nature articles, are cases where scientists rewrite previous findings in different words, purposely hiding the sources of their ideas, and then during subsequent years forcefully claim that they have discovered new phenomena. Such ‘intelligent plagiarism’ is, unfortunately, often more successful because most scientists do not have either time or sufficient interest to carefully investigate where the original results came from.

As such misconduct seems to me to have recently increased within the scientific community, I think that a thorough discussion of these issues, in Nature or elsewhere, is urgently needed.

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Stenflo, L. Intelligent plagiarists are the most dangerous. Nature 427, 777 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/427777a

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