Link: The plagiarism problem in science

Michael Lesk (2014) has a commentary on a new paper (Citron and Ginsparg 2014) that uncovers widespread plagiarism among published scientific papers. Lesk discusses a number of other systemic problems with scientific publishing, from “fake” papers that exist only to inflate citation numbers to “fake” conferences that trade on the reputation of real conferences with the same name. In other words, it’s about extreme behavior that degrades trust in scientific results.

But how do we tell these malefactors from normal scientists we’ve never heard of?

Mere number of publications is not what is really important. When challenged as a “half-wit,” the Roman emperor Claudius, at least in the British Broadcasting Corporation version of his life, replied that it is quality rather than quantity of wits that matters (13). Similarly, the National Science Foundation asks those who submit proposals to list five important and relevant papers and not to attempt to drown the referees in dozens (or hundreds) of articles.

Well, that’s an encouraging comparison.

Lesk notes that the problem of plagiarism is much worse in certain countries, and many have written about the same issue. The heartbreaking thing is that cheating leapfrogs researchers into positions of authority in countries where the watchdogs are not watchful. Once in authority, the cheaters almost inevitably inhibit the advancement of science, because the entire credibility of the establishment is questionable. A level playing field is important to establishing credibility of the scientific enterprise.


Lesk M (2014) How many scientific papers are not original? _Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA_ (early edition) doi:10.1073/pnas.1422282112

Citron DT, Ginsparg P (2014) Patterns of text reuse in a scientific corpus. _Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA_ (early edition), doi:10.1073/ pnas.1415135111