Originality and Ownership in Research
Plagiarism is a fuzzy concept, which leads to two dangers for
novice researchers. On the one hand, insufficient caution
can lead to sanctionable ethics
violations. On the other hand, excessive caution can lead researchers
to shy away from teamwork and miss opportunities for productive
The six scenarios below can be used to help align perceptions of
what counts as plagiarism. For example, a helpful 20-minute exercise
is to break a large group into subgroups of 3, have each subgroup
consider whether each scenario counts as plagiarism or
something else, and then examine each scenario by having subgroups
explain their conclusions to the whole group.
These scenarios were developed in 2003 by Nigel Ward for use at the UTEP
Computer Science Graduate Student Orientation.
- In Rashid's M.S. thesis defense he referred to "preliminary work we
did". Upon questioning it turns out that this work was done by his
advisor and other members of the research group before Rashid even
came to UTEP. Is he wrong to use the word "we"?
Carletta and Fred are working on two aspects of the same problem. For
a laboratory meeting Carletta prepares a small literature survey, and
emails it to Fred to ask his opinion. Later Fred copies three
paragraphs verbatim into his thesis. When confronted, Fred points out
that the acknowledgements section includes the statement "I especially
thank Carletta for her many valuable contributions to this work". Is
his behavior wrong?
Andrea's class project is an experiment on the performance of a
Java compiler, which replicates almost exactly a previously published
study. Is this wrong?
Lim's Masters project is Release 3 of a large freeware project.
In addition to Lim, there were five other main contributors, some
of who contributed more code than he did. Is he wrong to claim this
as his own work?
Bill's strategy for surveying related research was to type in relevant
phrases and sentences he finds in journal articles and conference
proceedings. He then organizes these quotes and re-writes them to
provide a description of the state of the art in the introduction
chapter of his thesis. One of his thesis committee members uses
Google and discovers that several long phrases are
almost unchanged from those in a published paper. When confronted,
Bill says that, since his English is rather poor, he thought it was
silly to rewrite those phrases and make them less clear. Is Bill wrong?
For Kota's thesis defense announcement his advisor rewrote the abstract
entirely: every phrase came out different, although the ideas are of
course unchanged. Is it appropriate for Kota to take this rewritten
abstract and submit it as part of his thesis?
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