Plagiarism by Academics: More Complex Than It Seems1

By Clarke, Roger | Journal of the Association for Information Systems, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Plagiarism by Academics: More Complex Than It Seems1


Clarke, Roger, Journal of the Association for Information Systems


Abstract

The unattributed incorporation of the work of others into an academic publication is widely regarded as seriously inappropriate behavior. Yet imitation is fundamental to many things that people do, even in academic disciplines. This paper examines the range of activities in which academics engage, including a detailed study of the authoring of textbooks. It concludes that a more fine-grained analysis of plagiarism is needed, in order to distinguish copying that is harmful to the intellectual process, and that which is important to it.

Keywords: ethics, code of conduct, professional misconduct, incorporation, attribution, citation, reference, academic publication, originality, copyright

Introduction

A great deal has been written about the inappropriate use by students of material originated by others. The literature relating to plagiarism by academics, on the other hand, is rather more limited, particularly within the information systems discipline. The legal and ethical frameworks are far from clear, and the tone of many articles is rather shrill. The Internet has brought new opportunities for plagiarists, and new investigative tools for their opponents. The time is ripe for deeper consideration of the issues that arise in the context of rapid, wide-reaching, electronic publication.

Throughout the first few years of the new millennium, ethics within the profession of information systems research has been the subject of a small flurry of activity. A related case appeared in Communications of the ACM (Kock, 1999), IS World established a Resource Page on the topic (Davison and Kock, 2000), and ICIS panels have addressed various topics within the area (e.g. Davison et al., 2001; Davison et al., 2003).

Furthermore, the Association for Information Systems (AIS) has studied the question of member misconduct (Heales et al., 2002; George et al., 2003), including an overview of the plagiarism literature by Heales (2003, pp. 59-65). Shortly afterward, a paper on the topic appeared in MISQ (Kock and Davison, 2003).

The AIS subsequently published a Code of Research Conduct, a segment of which is concerned with plagiarism (Davison et al., 2004b, together with supporting documents, Davison et al., 2004a and 2004c). A key motivation for the research underlying this paper was the articulation of concerns about some aspects of the AIS Code.

During the review process for this paper, a paper submitted to an AIS-sponsored major conference was found to be highly plagiarized. About 70% of the paper was copied almost exactly, without quotation marks. The original paper was in the reference list. AIS reported the matter to the author's Dean and the author was later reported to have been subjected to severe punishment (AIS 2005).

The development of the argument in this paper was informed by literature research, consideration of the many contexts in which academic publishing is undertaken, and an investigation into allegations of plagiarism in a textbook.

The paper commences with a brief review of plagiarism generally, to provide context for the more specific concerns of inappropriate copying by academics. I present arguments against plagiarism under the headings of pedagogical, ethical, and legal, and outline several counter-arguments. In order to throw light on the tension between the two sets of arguments, I include a case study.

The paper suggests that balance is needed, and that conventional, narrow, defensive, and proprietary attitudes to copying need to be moderated. The boundaries need to be clarified, through community debate. I suggest some constructive proposals that are intended to provide a basis for postgraduate training, to assist individual authors, and to support investigations into allegations of plagiarism. These relate to evaluation criteria for the seriousness of instances of plagiarism, and appropriate processes and enforcement mechanisms. …

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