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August 12, 2010

Plagiarized work – honest work is dead???

Filed under: common man, education, research, science — neosurya @ 23:11

As part of my professional duties, I review research papers that are submitted to conferences. I have been reviewing some papers that were submitted to an international conference. For those unfamiliar with the research arena, conferences are places where researchers submit articles that discuss their recent projects. These articles would typically be 6-8 pages in length, usually with description of the problem, the method used to solve the problem (algorithm, math formulae, code etc), and results of testing the algorithms.

Most researchers are supposed to submit “original work” at conferences, i.e. the algorithms or code should be their own, and should not be taken from someone else. If they do take it from someone else, they are supposed to mention where they took the algorithms from. Even if part of the algorithm is from the researcher’s own work that he had submitted in a previous conference, he is supposed to mention that this part of the paper was submitted earlier.

So, there is this paper by author “X” in front of me – the complete paper has been copied from page 2 to page 5 from another paper written by author “B” in 2005. Author “X” has submitted a paper written by someone lese in 2005 as his own paper in 2010. Author “X” cannot even claim that they did not see the 2005 paper. The 2005 paper is quite reputed. If the university of author “X” has even a half-way decent policy on ethics, X would be removed from college. I can only wonder what the professor who guided this student “X” was doing.

So, here are a few ground rules when it comes to writing honest articles:

  1. Never, ever copy work from somewhere else. There was this wise-crack student in college who once asked me “how would I reference the bubble sort algorithm, it is known to every CS student”. I told him he should mention the MIT white book as reference for that. Jokes apart, unless something is as common knowledge as E=MC2, one is supposed to mention a reference. (Even for E= MC2, one is supposed to cite Einstein [1])
  2. If you need to write from someone else’s article word-for-word, please put it in quotes. If it is more than a paragraph or so, clearly indicate the start and end of such copying.

However, not everyone has their head screwed on in the right way when it comes to plagiarism. Even regular authors have plagiarized; case in point is Kaavya Viswanathan [1, 2]. If one goes by this article, she does seem to be getting more successful now. But she had to move away from writing as a career. Good for her, it was still early in her life and she was able to change to a different profession. But not everyone has similar luck. Cheating in the academia can kill one’s career. You may get that pat on the back from your boss, but when it will hit you in the future you will not be able to get back on two feet.

While I am saying all this, I also feel these days that the pressure is too great to perform. We are shifting from a society that expects well-thought out ideas, to a society that expects quick results and cool ideas. I am reminded of a video that I saw long back on “Vignyan Ashram” [YouTube]; I had blogged about it here. The founder of the school “Dr. Kalbag” says at one point (Translation is mine):

I had visited a school in the city, the principal of the school said that students in the city school were better at mathematics and science. I asked him – yes, your students are better at Math, but if my students are writing an exam, I can leave the classroom even while they are writing the test. I will be confident that my students will want to trust their own knowledge and not depend on the crutches of cheating.

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