Friday, January 12, 2024

Plagiarism and nuance

This is Joseph.

There has been a lot of discussion about Plagiarism lately. But it is a very much an art to identify it in academic writing. Some sections, like the methods, need to present information clearly and there are not that many ways to state the same information. 

Compare this paper with this paper in terms of the first paragraph of the methods section: 

These papers were published one day apart (Nov 27/28 2022). There is not a single author in common and both reflect very different styles of developing the paragraph. But automated detection software will find a surprising correspondence because both papers will need to accurately describe the sampling frame for the study and many aspects of this are fixed (how many people, race/ethnicity, ages, field centers, exclusion criteria). Same thing with technical definitions and mathematical equations -- math does not do well with being creatively altered. 

I don't want to defend plagiarism, but there is a lot of nuance to academic writing. It takes some real effort to decide if things that are similar actually rise to the level of an issue and it takes a lot of work and judgement. Here is a case where a scientist looks at what the media found and has . . . questions

It is not definitive, but it explains why careful investigation is the best path forward. 

Anyway, food for thought.

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