From the Editor

Plagiarism detected during review of a manuscript

Cate DeweyA reviewer identified plagiarized passages in a manuscript that was submitted to the Journal of Swine Health and Production as original research. It was both easy to identify and very disturbing for this reviewer, because the plagiarized passages came from his own work. Can you imagine how that would feel?

Frankly, I am surprised and disappointed to have to write an editorial about plagiarism. This is something we were taught about in grade school, high school, and again at university. Surely we all know that plagiarism is wrong. However, as an editor, I wonder what would have happened if we had not selected that particular reviewer. Would we have identified the plagiarism within the manuscript?

What is plagiarism?

The American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style1 says that plagiarism exists when "an author presents as his or her own ideas, language, data, graphics, or even scientific protocols created by someone else, whether published or unpublished, without giving appropriate credit." Plagiarism violates copyright law if the manuscript that is copied has been published. Very definitely, plagiarism fractures the sense of trust built between scientists.

There are four types of plagiarism, according to the AMA Manual of Style.1 Direct plagiarism occurs when the author uses passages word for word without using quotation marks and without citing the original author. The second kind of plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, may be more difficult to identify. The manuscript contains the author's ideas and opinions meshed with those of another author who is neither identified nor credited. It is difficult to tell where one person's ideas begin and end. The original source is likely not cited. In the third type of plagiarism, paraphrasing, the author rewords a sentence without changing the meaning or citing the original author. Rewording of sentences may be common, but it is essential that the idea is attributed to the original author and that the sentence is changed sufficiently. Finally, insufficient acknowledgment is also plagiarism. In this case, either the original author is credited for only part of what was used, or the reader is not able to determine exactly which ideas came from the original author and which are novel to the person writing the manuscript.

Clearly, as reviewers, we must be cautious to further investigate manuscripts where we suspect plagiarism. Perhaps one clue is that the sentence structure and grammar change from one part of the manuscript to another. Reading papers from the reference list may help the reviewer to determine whether or not the "different-looking" passages are plagiarized. If you suspect plagiarism when you are reviewing a manuscript, be sure to contact the editor. Further examination of the pertinent literature in the area will likely uncover the plagiarism if it has occurred, preventing publication of manuscripts containing plagiarized material.

-- Cate Dewey


1. Ethical and legal considerations. In: Iverson C, Flanagan A, Fontananrosa PB, Glass RM, Glitman P, Lantz JC, Meyer HS, Smith JM, Winker MA, Young RK, eds. American Medical Association Manual of Style. 9th ed. Baltimore, Maryland: Williams and Wilkins; 1997:87-172.