|Year : 2017 | Volume
| Issue : 4 | Page : 188-189
Plagiarism: Software-based detection and the importance of (Human) hardware
Durga Prasanna Misra1, Vinod Ravindran2, Vikas Agarwal1
1 Department of Clinical Immunology, SGPGIMS, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Centre for Rheumatology, Calicut, Kerala, India
|Date of Web Publication||16-Nov-2017|
Centre for Rheumatology Calicut, Kerala
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
|How to cite this article:|
Misra DP, Ravindran V, Agarwal V. Plagiarism: Software-based detection and the importance of (Human) hardware. Indian J Rheumatol 2017;12:188-9
Plagiarism refers to the reproduction of content or ideas that are not original without sufficiently attributing the same to the original source. Plagiarism is considered as one of the most serious academic offences. Detection of plagiarism in a submitted paper generally leads to rejection, and postpublication identification of this misdemeanor often results in retraction. In the Indian scenario, where rote learning and verbatim reproduction are encouraged right from childhood, understanding of plagiarism for the clinician-scientist has great relevance. Unfortunately, a significant burden of plagiarism still exists in India in thesis and research publications and accounts for a major burden of corrections in the published literature from India in the form of retractions. This problem has been recently recognized by bodies governing higher education in India such as the University Grants Commission (UGC), which published a draft of regulations to establish rules governing plagiarism identification and appropriate sanctioning of penalty for the same in higher education institutions (HEI) in India. This is a laudable step in India where there was a distinct lack of rules and regulations governing plagiarism at the national level. In this editorial, we discuss the merits and demerits of this crucial document in the Indian context.
The draft regulations, named as the “UGC (Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in HEI) Regulations, 2017” rightly mandate the requirement of an infrastructure to help educate scholars about the evils of plagiarism as well as establish a system to help identify plagiarism in academic writing. One of the most important recommendations of the document (Point no. 6c) explicitly states that each scholar and academic should be provided an account to help access plagiarism checking software and run their manuscripts through the same. In general, speaking, the use of plagiarism checking software is costly. For example, the website of a commonly used plagiarism-checking software iThenticate quotes the cost of checking a single paper up to 25000 words as United States Dollars (USD) 100, and that for checking three papers up to 25,000 words each as USD 300. Considering the senior academic may need to either author or guide up to ten papers in a year, the cost of running this through plagiarism check approximately comes to greater than Indian Rupees 65,000 annually. Needless to say, it is impossible to bear this cost at the level of an individual on a regular basis. Therein lies the importance of the institution bearing this cost for all academic physicians practicing and conducting research under its purview. At present, just considering the status of medical institutions, only a handful of centrally funded institutions actually fund this kind of plagiarism-checking activity. Considering the serious implications of plagiarism detected postsubmission of a thesis or a manuscript by a researcher, as emphasized in the present UGC draft guideline which propose up to 3 years of a ban on publishing academic papers with arrest of annual increments for 2 years and a ban on further guiding students for 3 years, it is imperative that institutions should first establish solid mechanisms to enable access to such plagiarism checking software by institutional funding.
As recently discussed by us, there is a cultural barrier regarding plagiarism in India  that is often not breached until students enter academics, that too often by the guidance of an approachable senior or faculty rather than as a routine education before and the time of entering higher education. It is quite unfortunate that many academicians often feel that such academic offenses and how to avoid them are to be learnt spontaneously by students without necessarily having didactic lectures on the same as part of their training. Right from an early age itself, the culture of “rote learning” to earn more marks and higher accolades should be discouraged and should be encouraged to develop analytical thinking and express themselves in their own language. Another barrier impeding appropriate expression in Indian scholars which might drive them to borrow text from previously written papers is that of language; hence, centers conducting research should invest in having facilities to enable translation of material written in local vernacular to English, which shall encourage authors to express themselves on their own.
Administrative authorities of higher education should first work toward developing strong systems that educate youngsters adequately about plagiarism and other academic offenses rather than the outright introduction of radical punishments to curb plagiarism. Certain points listed in [Table 1] derived from previously published literature , and based on the experience of the authors may help young authors avoid plagiarism.
The UGC draft guidelines categorize the extent of plagiarism depending on core (”abstract, summary, hypothesis, observations, results, conclusions, and recommendations”) and noncore areas (i.e., other areas such as introduction and methods). They propose a policy of “zero tolerance” of similarity in core areas, whereas for noncore areas, up to 10% similarity may be condoned, with increasingly higher penalties for 10%–40%, <40%–60%, and <60% (Level 1, 2, and 3, respectively). Herein lies a major limitation of these draft guidelines. One presumes that the extent of similarity proposed as above refers to that detected by plagiarism checking software. Speaking from personal experience, the use of such software is quite complex and the results of such a plagiarism check report need careful interpretation by a person trained in reading such reports since even the slightest similarity in phrases or sequence of words is flagged by such software. For example, a manuscript of 3000 words may have a series of three to five commonly used phrases repeated over a hundred times in the text, mostly in different sentences, thereby rendering a similarity of up to 400–500 words out of 3000 (up to 16%, thereby a level 1 offence). In addition, some degree of similarity may be present in the methods, for example, while naming reagents produced by a particular company (say upto 5%). Actually, this is not plagiarism. While reading the fine print of the draft guidelines makes one realize that minor similarities should be excluded from this classification (point 7iii); however, this point deserves to be emphasized much more to inadvertently sanction punishments for such minor, irrelevant similarities. Indeed, many institutions, and indeed some journals now have a separate post of Research Integrity Officer,, recognizing the complexity of the evolving field of scientific publishing and ethics and the need to have a specialized, dedicated, and trained person with adequate exposure to and experience in dealing with such cases.
To summarize, the draft guidelines by the UGC on the detection and handling of plagiarism in academia in India are a good beginning; however, they must be strengthened by first establishing mechanisms to educate scholars and academia right from a young age about plagiarism and how to avoid it. Proposals of having mandatory access to plagiarism-checking software are excellent and should be implemented at institutions all over the nation. However, results derived from such a plagiarism check should be interpreted cautiously by adequately trained individuals and in the context, not just accepting the results presented at a face value.
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