“Dear DOSI“: Questions from the audience of our Research Town Halls

Friday, February 22, 2019

Before and after each of our monthly town-halls, ASIST collects questions and topics of interests from the audience. Through the rubric “Dear DOSI”, we offer the research community an opportunity to have their questions answered by trusted experts.

Q: “In the intro to my manuscripts, I describe why my work is important.  There are a few sentences that are very similar, if not identical, across multiple papers.  It never occurred to me that this would be considered inappropriate - they are my words and there are only so many ways you can say, "Disease X is important, it kills a lot of people and prevention of disease X would be helpful".  Do people really care if those 3 sentences are the same across multiple papers?”

John Klingensmith, PhD, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, The Graduate School, Duke University:

"An investigator might have several publications that address a single research issue, creating a situation in which framing a new study in a manuscript might involve very similar wording to what she’s already published. Rather than reuse previously published text, she should write the concepts freshly. If the wording turns out to be the same, she should paraphrase in the new text, or cite the earlier publication(s) - preferably both! iThenticate is a powerful tool to detect inadvertent recycling of an author’s words, allowing for changes to be made prior to submission for review."

Q: “I have written grants with senior faculty members who include students in the grant-writing process. The writing done by this student is never attributed to them, as they are not included as co-investigators on the proposals. This seems problematic to me and I wonder about whether this would be considered plagiarism.”

Cary Moskovitz, Professor of the Practice in the Thompson Writing Program

"I agree that the arrangement is problematic, but plagiarism may not the best term to describe it. I’d think of this, rather, as a questionable and perhaps unethical ghostwriting practice. Ghostwriting is an arrangement in which a writer agrees to write something without being listed as an author. This is common for administrators, government officials, politicians and so on. But for scholarly work—even workplace documents such as grants—this does not seem appropriate to me. While it may not be possible to make a student a co-PI or even a collaborator on a grant (since the student may not be around to participate), there is no reason why the student’s contribution should not be formally recognized. If faculty members are uncertain about how to best acknowledge such contributions, a forthright conversation with the Office of Research Support would be a good first step. For more on ghostwriting as academic misconduct in the world of research, see references below. Although these deal generally with concerns relating to masking of conflicts of interest, they may be useful in getting a sense for the issues generally."


Exorcising ghostwriting…. Ghostwriting could potentially have serious repercussions for science and should therefore be treated as research misconduct. EMBO Rep. 2011;12(6):489-94.

Bosch X. Treat ghostwriting as misconduct. Nature 2011; 469, 472.

Singer, N.  Senator Moves to Block Medical Ghostwriting. The New York Times: by  on AUGUST 24, 2009


Q: “My question is, in the case of "public knowledge" does that mean people who are in the same field as you or common knowledge to everyone. For example we all know that if we add yellow and blue that is green. But in the field of HIV we know that PrEP is the pill that can prevent HIV... but most of the community still do not know about it even with it being on tv.”

Ana Sanchez, PhD, Director ASIST, Duke Office of Scientific Integrity:

“This will depend on the context in which the information is presented. If you are using the phrase “PrEP is the pill that can prevent HIV” in a journal read by those in the HIV research field, then it would be considered general knowledge to those readers. Therefore, in that context not citing would be considered acceptable. However, if you are writing that phrase in a journal read by an audience you would not assume to know this (say a journal about drug development methods), it would be best to cite an appropriate source. Overall, when you have doubt if the information is general knowledge to your intended audience, it’s best to cite an appropriate source“[1].

[1] https://ori.hhs.gov/plagiarism-11


David Hansen, JD, Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections and Scholarly Communication:

"From the IP side of things, in general the approach is not to look at what is being reported from a subjective perspective (i.e., “common knowledge” within a specialized group) but rather whether the idea had been publicly disclosed at all before. For patents, for example, one must show that the claimed invention is “novel,” meaning that the invention was not known or used by others in the United States before the patent applicant invented it. Now my answer is looking at this from another lens – what I’m talking about is disclosure or protection of inventions, which has some clear demarcation in the law. For plagiarism, I think the answer is far less clear, and really dependent on the field and how the particular publication or outlet in which the subject text will appear thinks about the concept of attribution of ideas. In some fields it’s not important, but in others it is highly important. “