Intellectual theft in broad daylight

Published: 26th September 2012 01:05 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th September 2012 01:05 AM   |  A+A-

A few high-profile incidents of plagiarism include novels that had to be pulled from retail shelves after it was found that the author had plagiarised significant portions from another work and the recent report about a group of Indian students who got business school rejections from Penn State for plagiarising essays in their admissions applications.

Plagiarism is defined in the 2000 US Federal Policy on Research Misconduct as ‘the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit’. The risk of reverse plagiarism also cannot be ruled out for unpublished works, ie, plagiarist copying original author’s unpublished work, publishing it first and then blaming the original author for reverse plagiarism. In the US there are many ways to combat plagiarism, including university student policies, federal grant regulations, US laws and anti-plagiarism software.

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is one of the leading American research misconduct investigation bodies. The ORI actions range from a simple reprimand letter to temporary ineligibility for federal grants, retraction of papers, disbarment and suspension. Most US educational institutions have strict anti-plagiarism policies, involving consequences from expulsion to revocation of degrees. In 2006, based on an alumnus’ allegations that more than 30 students in Ohio University had plagiarised portions of their graduate theses from graduate theses over a 20 year period, the university ordered the former students to address the allegations, re-write their theses or risk having their degrees revoked.

Unlike the US, India does not have a policy or a national administrative body overseeing academic or research misconduct. Indian universities do not appear to have well formulated policies on checking plagiarism. The result has been a general lack of accountability, an example of which was seen in 2007, when a professor was found guilty by an enquiry committee of plagiarising or falsifying results in over 70 journal articles published between 2003 and 2007.

Commentators say that principles of research integrity must be taught from the time that students learn to extract, summarise and analyse information generated by others. Self-policing by educational institutions, professional bodies and government research grant providers is the key to a healthy system that checks plagiarism. The Amrita University has taken a lead in educating its faculty and students about the dangers of plagiarism.

India may well be on its way to be a superpower but its reputation for producing original ideas or expressions is in question. We may have to make a choice soon: take the time and effort to produce ethically researched original work product, or be lured by the promise of short-term gains by stealing credit for ideas and work of another, which when discovered results in embarrassment to India.

Lack of action with respect to plagiarism can have a dampening effect on all the honest and hard-working Indian researchers and scholars who could be future Nobel Prize winners. India should pay heed to this issue — instead of being satisfied solely with becoming the back office support of the world.

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