By Dr. Sarah Gibson
I don’t want to be a downer…but the thing that has been on my mind lately regarding academic writing is plagiarism. I found a paper back in 2012 that plagiarized one of my papers. I guess it was not particularly egregious–they didn’t steal my data and try to pass it off as their own, but they did paraphrase (very poorly, like replacing a few words with synonyms while keeping the sentence structure) several sentences and paragraphs of mine without citing me. In doing so they essentially stole my ideas. I followed the IEEE guidelines for reporting plagiarism, but to my disappointment the editor of the journal that published the offending paper “disagreed” with me that this case constituted plagiarism, and went so far as to say that, if anything, I should be happy that the authors agreed with my arguments! I thought, am I taking crazy pills? So I showed it to the director of the UCLA Graduate Writing Center who also showed it to the director of UCLA Writing Programs, both of whom agreed that this was textbook plagiarism. At the time, I was wrapping up my PhD, getting ready for my defense, and looking for a job, so I didn’t have time to pursue it further. But it has always been in the back of my mind, so last November I decided to bring up the issue again with the new editor of the same journal. He sent the case to the journal’s Plagiarism Committee, but they refused to hear my case because they said that my complaint had not changed and had already been addressed by the previous editor.
Needless to say, I’m furious. All my life (well, since middle school, probably), all my teachers have put the Fear of God in me about plagiarism, warning me that it is a crime so serious that it could get me kicked out of school, ruin my career, or worse. As such, I’ve taken great pains in my own writing to give proper credit where credit is due, and to be very careful when paraphrasing (even when I am giving proper credit!). So when I am wronged, at the very least I would expect IEEE to have my back. It is so unbelievable to me that they won’t stand up for me–won’t defend the very idea of intellectual property (wrong term?) at all.
One thing that both Directors did point out was how every country/culture (I know you hate slashes! but I used one anyway!) has a different idea about what constitutes plagiarism vs. “common knowledge”, and that this makes the issue much more complicated, since the papers are being written by authors from all across the world, and even the journal editors and IEEE committee members are from all different cultures.
The main purpose of this post is to express my shock and disappointment at this event. But if you have any suggestions for how to proceed, I would love to hear them. I do have a couple more ideas: (1) contact the editor of the plagiarized journal (rather than the plagiarizing journal). This is not IEEE protocol, but maybe they would have my back? (2) Find an IEEE fellow to write a letter on my behalf. (3) Go to the press with a scathing expose.