Is It Plagiarism or Not? When Is It OK Not To Cite?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The most recent Town Hall on Plagiarism and Intellectual Credit organized by ASIST and the Duke Office of Scientific Integrity was attended by about 190 members of the Duke community, most of them Faculty and Research staff. The event is part of a monthly series intended to serve as a public space for interactive discussion, meant to contribute to a cultural shift where research integrity is fostered at all levels and in all aspects of research.

To ensure that the audience is well served, the town halls are designed based on pre-event surveys collecting audience topics of interest. For the “Plagiarism and Intellectual Credit” town hall, the participants expressed an advance interest in discussing the borderline areas, rather than the black-and-white aspects of the topic. For example, self-plagiarism was viewed as a serious or very serious problem by 34% of the audience. Is it OK to duplicate your own research methods from a study? Do you need to cite your own published paragraphs or can you be accused of plagiarism if you don’t? Are there any exceptions? “It’s a problematic practice”, says Donna Kessler, “because it misleads the reader about when and where the ideas come from.” John Klingensmith, the Graduate School’s Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, adds that citing someone’s own words is advisable because it informs the readers, the research funder or the publisher what is new and what is not. But different journals have different norms or policies about self-citation. Panelists’ answers about when it is advisable not to cite a source (for example in case of generalizable knowledge) reflected the lack of consensus and lack of definition among regulators and publishers. “From a legal point of view, the US copyright law does not focus on citation, but on the monetary contributions of the reproduction”, says David Hansen JD, Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections and Scholarly Communication. “Smart writers cite regardless whether they need to”, adds Cary Moskovitz, Professor of the Practice in the Thomson Writing Program. Donna Kessler reminds us of the general rule of thumb: if you have a question about it, be transparent and indicate where/from whom it came from. However, avoiding plagiarism faces multiple challenges today, in the context of perverse incentives and external pressures that scientists and authors face, and also in the context of open science research and extensive collaborative projects. Researchers face competing demands, such as publishing as many papers as possible at the highest standards and in service to society; research results must be shared widely to be beneficial to everyone, but in the same time, all contributions need to be recognized. (Access the full slides here)

Read next: How To Avoid or Prevent Plagiarism


ASIST and Duke Office of Scientific Integrity would like to thank the moderator and distinguished panelists for their participation in the Research Town Hall ”Plagiarism and Intellectual Credit”:

Chris Simon, Associate Professor in Population Health Sciences
Donna Kessler, Research Misconduct Review Officer
John Klingensmith, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Graduate School

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

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