History journal editors explain the challenges of dealing with plagiarism

Historians in the News

To most academics, plagiarism is a serious violation of professional ethics. But even as professors consider which combination of software, policies and education can teach undergraduates about academic integrity, many are unsure about how to handle allegations against fellow scholars.

The issue has been vexing to the American Historical Association, which got itself out of the business of adjudicating plagiarism disputes in 2003, but where no real consensus has emerged about who should deal with these issues and how to balance the rights of those who have been accused of plagiarism with those whose work may have been plagiarized. A panel discussion of journal editors at the AHA’s annual meeting on Saturday reinforced the results of a recent survey: Many journals have no written policies on how to handle allegations and fear that inquiries could get their publications sued.

A central problem, participants said, is that however much plagiarism may offend scholars and make professors look silly to the public when famous authors are exposed, the law takes a different approach. “From the point of view of the law, defamation of character is a very live issue, but plagiarism is really marginal,” said Alan Lessoff, professor of history at Illinois State University and editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

During the discussion, several editors shared horror stories (generally without names) of the kinds of plagiarism issues that have come their way — generally prior to publication, when a reviewer calls to say that the book or article that was sent for consideration is awfully familiar, because it comes from something the reviewer wrote. Other complaints go further, such as what to do about a reviewer who — in violation of a confidentiality agreement — shared unpublished research in a piece he was reviewing with one of his graduate students, denying the author a scholarly scoop....

Related Links

  • Chronicle of Higher Ed: History Journal Editors Ponder How to Deal With Plagiarism

  • comments powered by Disqus