HNN Index: What Is Plagiarism?





Following are three definitions of plagiarism.

THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

This is from the American Historical Association's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct. It is reprinted courtesy of the AHA.

Identifying Plagiarism

The word plagiarism derives from Latin roots: plagiarius, an abductor, and plagiare, to steal. The expropriation of another author's text, and the presentation of it as one's own, constitutes plagiarism and is a serious violation of the ethics of scholarship. It undermines the credibility of historical inquiry.

In addition to the harm that plagiarism does to the pursuit of truth, it can also be an offense against the literary rights of the original author and the property rights of the copyright owner. Detection can therefore result not only in academic sanctions (such as dismissal from a graduate program, termination of a faculty contract, or denial of promotion or tenure) but in legal action as well. As a practical matter, plagiarism between scholars rarely goes to court, in part because legal concepts, such as infringement of copyright, are narrower than ethical standards that guide professional conduct. The real penalty for plagiarism is the abhorrence of the community of scholars.

Plagiarism includes more subtle and perhaps more pernicious abuses than simply expropriating the exact wording of another author without attribution. Plagiarism also includes the limited borrowing, without attribution, of another person's distinctive and significant research findings, hypotheses, theories, rhetorical strategies, or interpretations, or an extended borrowing even with attribution. Of course, historical knowledge is cumulative, and thus in some contexts--such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, or broad syntheses--the form of attribution, and the permissible extent of dependence on prior scholarship, citation and other forms of attribution will differ from what is expected in more limited monographs. As knowledge is disseminated to a wide public, it loses some of its personal reference. What belongs to whom becomes less distinct. But even in textbooks a historian should acknowledge the sources of recent or distinctive findings and interpretations, those not yet a part of the common understanding of the profession, and should never simply borrow and rephrase the findings of other scholars.

Plagiarism, then, takes many forms. The clearest abuse is the use of another's language without quotation marks and citation. More subtle abuses include the appropriation of concepts, data, or notes all disguised in newly crafted sentences, or reference to a borrowed work in an early note and then extensive further use without attribution. All such tactics reflect an unworthy disregard for the contributions of others.

Resisting Plagiarism

All who participate in the community of inquiry, as amateurs or as professionals, as students or as established historians, have an obligation to oppose deception. This obligation bears with special weight on the directors of graduate seminars. They are critical in shaping a young historian's perception of the ethics of scholarship. It is therefore incumbent on graduate teachers to seek opportunities for making the seminar also a workshop in scholarly integrity. After leaving graduate school, every historian will have to depend primarily on vigilant self-criticism. Throughout our lives none of us can cease to question the claims our work makes and the sort of credit it grants to others.

But just as important as the self-criticism that guards us from self-deception is the formation of work habits that protect a scholar from plagiarism. The plagiarist's standard defense--that he or she was misled by hastily taken and imperfect notes--is plausible only in the context of a wider tolerance of shoddy work. A basic rule of good notetaking requires every researcher to distinguish scrupulously between exact quotation and paraphrase. A basic rule of good writing warns us against following our own paraphrased notes slavishly. When a historian simply links one paraphrase to the next, even if the sources are cited, a kind of structural misuse takes place; the writer is implicitly claiming a shaping intelligence that actually belonged to the sources. Faced with charges of failing to acknowledge dependence on certain sources, a historian usually pleads that the lapse was inadvertent. This excuse will be easily disposed of if scholars take seriously the injunction to check their manuscripts against the underlying texts prior to publication.

The second line of defense against plagiarism is organized and punitive. Every institution that includes or represents a body of scholars has an obligation to establish procedures designed to clarify and uphold their ethical standards. Every institution that employs historians bears an especially critical responsibility to maintain the integrity and reputation of its staff. This applies to government agencies, corporations, publishing firms, and public service organizations such as museums and libraries, as surely as it does to educational facilities. Usually, it is the employing institution that is expected to investigate charges of plagiarism promptly and impartially and to invoke appropriate sanctions when the charges are sustained. Penalties for scholarly misconduct should vary according to the seriousness of the offense, and the protections of due process should always apply. A persistent pattern of deception may justify public disclosure or even termination of an academic career; some scattered misappropriations may warrant only a formal reprimand.

All historians share responsibility for maintenance of the highest standards of intellectual integrity. When appraising manuscripts for publication, reviewing books, or evaluating peers for placement, promotion, and tenure, scholars must evaluate the honesty and reliability with which the historian uses primary and secondary source materials. Scholarship flourishes in an atmosphere of openness and candor, which should include the scrutiny and discussion of academic deception.

Statement Courtesy the American Historical Association

THE MODERN LANGUAGE ASSOCIATION

This is from Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (3rd ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1988), pp. 21-25.

The MLA Handbook defines plagiarism as the use of another person's ideas or expressions in your writing without giving proper credit to the source. The word comes from the Latin word plagiarius ("kidnapper"), and Alexander Lindey defines it as"the false assumption of authorship: the wrongful act of taking the product of another person's mind, and presenting it as one's own" (Plagiarism and Originality [New York: Harper, 1952] 2).

"In short, to plagiarize is to give the impression that you have written or thought something that you have in fact borrowed from someone else." This can include paraphrasing, copying someone else's writing word for word, or using ideas that aren't your own without proper citation. Plagiarism is often unintentional, and bad research habits can form early in elementary school. Unfortunately, these bad habits can continue throughout high school and college and may result in severe consequences, from failure in a course to expulsion. To avoid these consequences, always cite your sources if you are unsure if you are plagiarizing (Gibaldi 21-25).

THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION

This is from the Manual of the American Psychological Association (Washington DC: American Psychological Association. 1995), 292-95.

Plagiarism (Principle 6.22)

Quotation marks should be used to indicate the exact words of another. Summarizing a passage or rearranging the order of a sentence and changing some of the words is paraphrasing. Each time a source is paraphrased, a credit for the source needs to be included in the text.

The key element of this principle is that an author does not present the work of another as if it were his or her own work. This can extend to ideas as well as written words. If an author models a study after one done by someone else, the originating author should be given credit. If the rationale for a study was suggested in the Discussion section of someone else's article, that person should be given credit. Given the free exchange of ideas, which is very important to the health of psychology, an author may not know where an idea for a study originated. If the author does know, however, the author should acknowledge the source; this includes personal communications (Publication Manual.... 292-95).



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Rostyslav Sklyar - 3/22/2011

This is an academic sketch on how Prof. Ferdinando (Sandro) Mussa-Ivaldi (Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago) with the help of Dr. Antonio Novellino (Institute for Health and Consumer Protection – Joint Research Centre, Italy), Thomas DeMarse (University of Florida), and Prof. Steve M. Potter (Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University) is publishing somebody else's research results- http://issuu.com/r_sklyar/docs/sklyarvsmussaivaldi


Stewart Allen - 3/22/2006

The biggest case of plagiarism since the invention of the Internet has taken place. An author John Vacca published a book by stealing content from hundreds of pages of websites. See http://www.jupiterscientific.org/science/pr/pr206.html


Shirley A Kacmarik - 8/28/2004

Having read much of the writing of Dr. James Mackay and being his friend also I am well appraised of the spurious claims of plagiagrism leveled against him. There is no need to refute them as the levelers of the charges have been shown to be men envious of Jim's immense talent and scholarship. His integrity and expertise in a multitude of venues is without question to anyone who knows him or knows his work and it is about time this whole silliness (I can think of no more appropo definition of the entire event) was put to bed. Having his integrity and his scholarship attacked has been a great hurt to him but he has retained the respect of his peers especially Burns scholars who know the truth and continue to champion his works.


James Alexander Mackay - 3/31/2004

I note with interest the commentrs by Robert V. Bruce regarding my plagiarism of his 1973 biography of Alexander Graham Bell, the nub of which was that I had trodden on hallowed turf and made use of material which is in the common domain but to which Bruce claimed some proprietorial right. The charges he brought against me at the AHA dragged on for more than two years at the end of which the worst the 'judges' could say was that I had clearly used material from Bruce's book but had been careful to put them into my own words! Which seems a strange definition of plagiarism.

Plagiarism is an extremely subjective term. Ak ten people to define it and you will get ten different answers.

Incidentally, Bruce overlooks his own extensive plagiarism of Lelant Rhodes 1929 book 'The Beginnings of Telephony' which he lifted lock, stock and barrel - entire paragraphs being reprinted without altering a single word - and without any acknowledgment of the source whatsoever. I raised this with the AHA but they turned a blind eye to this. After all, Bruce is a Pulitzer prizewinner and a council member of the AHA and therefore beyond reproach.

His jibe about my prize-winning Burns biography needs to be qualified. The charge of plagiarism in this was raised two years ago by Dr Andre Noble when his own 'Canongate Burns' was about to be published. The charge was utterly ludicrous and was roundly condemned by all other Burns scholars. It was seen for what it was worth, a witless attempt to besmirch me in the aftermath of the Bruce allegation. Subsequently Noble's own book has been accused of plagiarising me, among others. So where does this nonsense end?


Nancy Ronan - 5/18/2003

Plagiarism is encouraged by the instructional methods of our educational system and American society as a whole. The way history is too often taught from the elementary grades through high school actually instructs students in how to plagiarize rather than how to avoid it. The idea that copying the "correct" answer is okay accumulates in many ways: looking up answers in the text, which are then copied word-for-word and applauded by the teacher as the correct answer; worksheets, which inspire no depth of thought; and the idea that skipping that last "Critical Thinking" question in the chapter review is acceptable because it's less work for the teacher to read 30 paragraphs. Research papers in the social studies at the high school level have more and more devolved from a standard Turabian format to MLS because it's "easier". The internet has complicated the issue even more. Although it offers incredible opportunities, students must be taught how to locate quality research and how to cite it. The internet complicates a teacher's ability to chase down suspected plagiarism in the vastness of cyberspace. The only solution is an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of the teacher to instruct students in methods of research and writing that avoid plagiarism. It calls for an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of students to do original work. Most public education systems are not structured to allow time for this, nor do most of them truly care. Society also offers a poor selection of models for students. Historians such as Goodwin and Ambrose, and the jounalists and financiers who during the past few years have been exposed as plagiarists, liars, and thieves really do not suffer serious consequences for their trespasses. They, in fact, accumulate and display the trappings of wealth and success. Why, therefore, should students worry? Everyone in America does it!


Nancy Ronan - 5/18/2003

Plagiarism is encouraged by the instructional methods of our educational system and American society as a whole. The way history is too often taught from the elementary grades through high school actually instructs students in how to plagiarize rather than how to avoid it. The idea that copying the "correct" answer is okay accumulates in many ways: looking up answers in the text, which are then copied word-for-word and applauded by the teacher as the correct answer; worksheets, which inspire no depth of thought; and the idea that skipping that last "Critical Thinking" question in the chapter review is acceptable because it's less work for the teacher to read 30 paragraphs. Research papers in the social studies at the high school level have more and more devolved from a standard Turabian format to MLS because it's "easier". The internet has complicated the issue even more. Although it offers incredible opportunities, students must be taught how to locate quality research and how to cite it. The internet complicates a teacher's ability to chase down suspected plagiarism in the vastness of cyberspace. The only solution is an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of the teacher to instruct students in methods of research and writing that avoid plagiarism. It calls for an enormous amount of time and effort on the part of students to do original work. Most public education systems are not structured to allow time for this, nor do most of them truly care. Society also offers a poor selection of models for students. Historians such as Goodwin and Ambrose, and the jounalists and financiers who during the past few years have been exposed as plagiarists, liars, and thieves really do not suffer serious consequences for their trespasses. They, in fact, accumulate and display the trappings of wealth and success. Why, therefore, should students worry? Everyone in America does it!


Daniel E. Teodoru - 9/16/2002

"The expropriation of another author's text, and the presentation of it as one's own, constitutes plagiarism and is a serious violation of the ethics of scholarship. It undermines the credibility of historical inquiry." This HNH Staff statement sounds as ominous as the possible side-effects listings for drugs in the PDR-- legal self coverage but medically not very deletarious.

I had the priviledge of knowing Prof. Ambrose. I also knew Kernes and quite a few other gerio-acads accused of plagiarism-- let's just call it "copying," since that's what your definition sais. Now, in the physical sciences, we all strive towards certain "truths" through a preponderance of evidences and persuasive arguments. It is quite often the case that many of us come to the same "truth" through the same "evidence," arguing in the same way. Since the language and synthax we are limited to by space-conscious editors is terse and compact, it often happens that a guy writing in French, one in English and another in Russian may well seem like they wrote a master paper together that they then translated-- would that be plagiarism, "copying"? The issue is one of "degrees of freedom." For example, how many movements are possible, given the structure of the elbow joint? Yet, given the numbers of muscles we have that act upon that joint, we might at first assume that these muscles are redundant-- or, put in another way, "plagiarizing" eachother. However, if you examine the biomechanics of their actions on that joint, subtle differences in their dominance of action are evident at different degrees of angle. Similarly, so much uniformity is required in science, that it is often the case that in bed with the wife (or, in some cases, with a grad student) it is often admitted that "Prof. X stole my idea after he so politely visited my lab or peer-reviewed my submission..." A few drinks have been known to disinhibit the ego-laden competition and the word "Plagggggerrrismmmm"-- note the ethanol induced slur-- is used. But really, in our most sober moments we dare no charge this, as we know that SAMENESS can quite easily occur, given the narrow uniformity required in research and report of a limited source of evidence for a limited number of realities argued in a limited number of ways. In fact, since undergrad days I could predict with certainty that any prof who is a stickler for proper references notation will peruse the papers of the students to PLAGIARIZE! In fact, very many PhD thesis are published with the mentor prof as first author!

My point is that begining with the fraudulent status of "educator" when really only wishing to be researcher, thus producing notoriously poor pedagogy that, in effect, steals the student's tuition, academics are-- especially once metabolically slowed down by tenure-- as unoriginal in ideas as they are incompetent in teaching. This basic theft leads to many, many others over time. Academia, it could be said, means leave your collegiality and morality at the door, as pompous, egomaniacal and lazy thinkers, driven still by old "publish or perish" pre-tenure survival habits, are bound to shameless steal a fleeting term or idea and claim originality. There is a negative linearity, it would seem, between sexual potency and obsession with scholarly productivity. As senior profs, they crave seeing their names in print as much as they used to crave the mini-skirts in the first row when junior faculty. For the female gender the issue is not potency but attractiveness. Yet, all in all, as my dad who was my academic model and mentor used to say: "the bigger they are [in title] the smaller their thoughts." Indeed, I would say that the tolerance full-feathered profs used to have for eachother's "plagiarism" until a Conservative anti-academia journalist decided to go after ya all on this issue, was only matched by their obsessive concern with the plagiarism of students...Of course, it makes sense; if you're going to steal from someone, you'd like to be sure that you're not stealing stolen property!

And so poor Kerns, Ambrose and others who in their emiretus years-- though out of the acad rat race loop-- decide that they can fight off cancer with scholarly productiveness greater than when lean mean hungry scholarship machines(there's a certain geriatric detached wisdom that enables one to see confluences a la Wislon where other coming youngsters might not), somewhat lacking the citation rigors of their academic past, but more than makeing up for that with a kind or rebound pedagogic creativity with which they generate public interest that sometimes matches even that in porno-websites for "hit" volume. As a vistor to fancy coffee, lounge and books stores like Border's, Doubleday, Barnes & Noble, etc, where people lounge on the carpet entransed in some book or other, I can report that in most cases all this captive attention is lavished on the works of some sextagenerian-plus with "emiretus" in his/her title. Profs on the make have a steady skill at producing works that can only be compared in the reading to attempting to swallow sawdust. But not these oldies, they are too serine; hence, they suddenly make the very topics they spent a career on making sterile, impregnating the reader's mind with all sorts of ideas and racing thoughts. Kernes, for example, has made dull presidents on whom we have only the sketchiest of info into three dimentional persons. Ambrose has made Eisenhower come to life. In the short time he was a visiting prof. at Rutgers U, he caused the "I swear not to question and not to think so that I can finish up as an inconspicuous shadow of a mind" grad students, desperate to avoid the impact of contoversy on their letters of employment recommendation a few years hence, suddenly ask questions, make [usually shallow, even stupid] comments, and show a definite learning curve instead of the pedagogic ER "flat line" that in medicine causes the code team head to pronounce "brain dead," and harvest the organs for others. And, both Kerns and Ambrose, show that unique quality of a real pedagogue: the ability to be instructive and force improvement in the sleepy brain cells, while very encouraging to self-expression. May I remind that, though all of Ambrose's books now sell as remainders, Strand's and other discount book stores are visited by thousands captivated by Ambrose's WWII, Ike, Cold War and the Westward Passage prose. He may be gaga and prone to get confused, but man is he captivating in a lecture or on a PBS history program. And all that because he and Kerns are geronto-serene, not plugging themselves down your throat like younger acads. And, of course, they may be sloppy and short circuit with, according to their accusers, the lifting of a line of 25 to even 50 words in a string salad! So What? Should we on that basis give up their caviar for the mind for the sawdust of the younger acads? Can't an apology be enough-- including the publicity that the unknown "victim" gets from identification as the contributor through plagiarism to the always fasciniating works of Kerns and Ambrose?

Perhaps my style and arguments gave away my view that acads are usually full of crap...indeed, indeed, indeed! But before you end up writing for no one elese but the typist, why not focus on what these authors do right and leave room for renumeration for the victims without banishment of the oldies, the only acads who grab the sluggish minds of the couch potato public that rather watch than read.


Carolyn Madison - 9/5/2002

At a time when honesty and integrity are being challenged more than ever, this article brings up good points about both. Though it was rather unnecessarily wordy, students and business people alike need to be reminded of how important giving our word is. Whether it is in a paper or in person, what we say and what we write are a direct reflection of who we are and what type of person we aspire to become. Thank you for your time...


Lila Jones - 9/5/2002

In reading the above article, I found that the message to be heard was buried underneath a barrage of wordiness and intellectual jargon. A definition and short discussion of the ethical error in plagiarism would have been sufficient. Thank you for your time.

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