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ORE Hosts Session on Research Misconduct and Plagiarism

Last week, the Office of Research and Engagement’s RCR Lunch and Learn series continued, with a session conducted by Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Robert Nobles. The session, entitled “Plagiarism and Tools for Prevention,” introduced plagiarism as the most prevalent form of research misconduct and discussed the importance of understanding plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and proper citation and credit to scholarly work and publication.

Ethical research and scholarly publication is predicated on the notion of original thought, ideas, questions, and answers. Plagiarism in research is defined as the use of another’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit to the originator(s). Its role in research misconduct is profound given that it is the most commonly reported violation at institutions nationwide. Research misconduct is defined as intentional fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism when proposing, performing or reviewing research, or in the reporting of research results.

The session discussed the importance of proper citation to the original source material, even if the source is a previous work of the author’s own. Self-plagiarism occurs when an individual reuses significant, identical, or nearly identical portions of his/her own work without acknowledging that he/she is doing so or citing the original work. This is also referred to as text recycling or recycling fraud. It is important to cite even one’s own previous work particularly when pulling from it for procedures and ideas. Self-plagiarism can also refer to violations such as multiple journal submissions when exclusivity clauses are involved.

It is now common practice for research sponsors and scientific journals to run grant proposals and research papers through anti-plagiarism software, which calculates a similarity score or percentage of the work that is suspected to be plagiarized. Institutions including universities, sponsors, journals, and agencies can set thresholds for similarity at which action will be taken. Investigators are encouraged to run grant proposals and manuscripts through anti-plagiarism software prior to submission and to make changes as necessary. For this reason, the University of Tennessee maintains a subscription to respected anti-plagiarism platform iThenticate.

If plagiarism is detected by a sponsor, the investigators can be excluded from review committees and forbidden from submitting for grants through that sponsor for a number of years. Previous research funding can also be retracted. Specific penalties and institutional policies regarding plagiarism vary, but it is anathema in any reputable academic circle.

Investigators can best protect themselves and their work by always identifying every source, no matter how lightly utilized, and include correct references. If you use it, cite it. The most common form of plagiarism due to lack of due diligence is inappropriate paraphrasing. For instance, background sections of research manuscripts have a tendency to become redundant over time and result in similar language, particularly when written by the same person. Investigators are encouraged to clearly explain the trajectory of their research and identify the new ideas and questions that justify their work as new research, as well as to cite their own original papers from which background information is drawn.

For more information on plagiarism prevention visit the Office of Research and Engagement’s iThenticate page or contact Jessie Holder Tourtellotte at jholde11@utk.edu.

The RCR Lunch and Learn Series continues on November 2 and 3 with Rachel Caldwell of the University Libraries delivering sessions on Publication Practices and Responsible Authorship. Register for these and the remaining sessions on the Office of Research and Engagement’s website.

Produced in collaboration between ORE, the Graduate School, and the University Libraries, the series boasts a comprehensive program of topic areas intended to educate our campus community about the importance of ethical research practices and relevant compliance topics.

Samantha Ehrlich, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health, served as rapporteur for the session in service to the Office of Research and Engagement.