‘Plagiarism’ is a word that brings terror to many graduate students at American Institutions. The fear of being caught plagiarizing and possible expulsion from a university has sent many graduate students to perform compulsive revision and re-editing of their term papers. But what is plagiarism and why all the fuss about it? According to Merriam Webster dictionary, plagiarism is defined as ‘the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person’.
Plagiarism is quite common and accepted in many developing countries, as it is ‘deeply rooted’ in academic environments. Several studies showed the pervasive nature of plagiarism. For example, one study found that participants from the former USSR were more accepting of plagiarism than their counterparts from the UK, whereas another study found a correlation between a tolerance of cheating with a corruption index of countries. In India, there were 80 plagiarized articles submitted between the years 2006-2008 to a local academic journal. In Peru, a study revealed systematic plagiarism in most manuscripts submitted from Latin America and another study uncovered 80% plagiarism in 33 medical theses. Generally, the developing world still needs to catch up in the areas of academic conduct and scholarly ethics.
In their article entitled ‘International perspectives on plagiarism and considerations for teaching international trainees’, Elizabeth Heitman and Sergio Litewka bring to attention the many precipitating factors that explain the occurrence of plagiarism among international trainees. For example, scholarly misconduct in academia may be attributed to the sustained corruption that occurs in most developing countries. Indeed, sustained corruption might cause distortion in ethical reasoning, which in the long run results in tolerance to the wrong doing. Professors and academics become immune to scholarly misconduct. Moreover, most developing countries have no established policies for plagiarism and international researchers are not exposed to such policies except when they are enrolled in international research or come to study in the West. Even then, they get overwhelmed with the sophisticated and ambiguous language of such policies. Furthermore, international scientists are surprised that they must cite sources for what may be perceived as common knowledge. For many in developing countries, copying from sources without citing the owner is, in fact, an attribution to the source. Informed readers are supposed to be able to recognize the original owner of the handiwork. Some have gone as far as to insist that claims of Intellectual Property rights serve as a mean to exploit and own knowledge, which should belong entirely to the society. Others claim that to impose these scholarly standards onto other nations is yet another form of moral imperialism and intellectual colonization.
But in all honesty, it all gets down to the trainee himself. Indeed, the authors explain that for the international trainees, English is their second language, so they usually have difficulty in writing and phrasing in English. Hence, such trainees who have “difficulty in academic writing “may borrow better English”. So, the obvious solution is teaching them how to write. International trainees should be offered all the help they need to properly express themselves fluently in English. The authors suggest writing labs, library support, writing courses in biomedical sciences and assistance in manuscript revision before submission to publication.
In their final remarks, the authors suggested a few ways for international trainees to get acquainted with international requirements for publication. These include, but are not limited to: the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals, the World Association of Medical Editors and lastly, the Committee on Publication Ethics. The aforementioned organizations provide teaching resources and tools for international trainees via their websites.