From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

November 2013
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Copying, Scooping and Plagiarism. In the digital age.
Filed under: Mature professionals, Observ. Trends
Posted by: site admin @ 1:53 pm

When you or I read or author a blog in the digital age,
one of the notions that can come up is originality of
KEY ideas.  It appears to be different than the school
age notion of duplicating someone else’s graded homework
or copying answers in an exam.  But is it?
[After all, are exams good measures of what a student learns?]

1.  The simple action of COPYING is reproducing the content
of an original.  The process by which the original was created
is not repeated.  (In the digital realm, we recognize
a signal to noise terminology where copying can result in
increased noise unless special filtering and enhancement occurs.
This is out of the scope of this post’s argument.)

In the legal arena, copying can be quite significant, especially
in areas of intellectual property, when actions are taken to define
originality and preserve exclusive use. [patents and copyrights]

2.  Technical plagiarism is where one copies the work of others and
claims the originality.  There is a sense of relaxation in this concept
if it is either fiction or considered common knowledge in nonfiction.
Fiction or novels do not usually incorporate references.  In written
work this implies word choice and syntax.

Technical plagiarism can be claimed in nonfiction work when nonfiction
uses similar language, if not referenced adequately.  We have seen
situations where ideas are directly duplicated without reference by
people in prominent positions, despite protests. 
One sentence is a situational occurrence;  paragraphs or whole ideas
reflect a pattern.

3.  Scooping is a term in scientific publication where current research
or ideas are published by another group first.  Another situation that
falls under this genre is where someone’s research proposal ideas
come out in another author’s publication without reference.  Signed
confidentiality agreements or secrecy agreements aim to hold
parties to ethical standards.

 It seems like copying could be a more frequent occurrence.  Consider
two other trends— half life of facts and publication of incorrect
data or interpretations (which are not rebutted in later issues.)

Samuel Arbesman wrote the Half Life of Facts in which all the facts as
we first learned them change.  While we search for the truth and the
useful, we should adapt our thinking to the latest advances.

Science sees advancement by confirmation.  Much of what
is published, I am sorry to admit, can be misapplied or may be incorrect
and not removed from our data-stores.  So, I subscribe to the notion that
duplication when verified by experiments with controls offers more
value by being published than not.
Fruitful ideas have no borders.