John McIntyre on varieties of plagiarism

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John McIntyre, at You Don't Say, has some cogent remarks on self-plagiarism:

Yesterday, writing at, Roy Peter Clark suggested that our current attitudes about plagiarism have conflated relatively minor or innocuous literary borrowings with serious thefts. One of the points he identified was the clamor about self-plagiarism. After quoting him, I'd like to add some observations.

Actually, he begins by quoting Judge Richard A. Posner's Little Book of Plagiarism: "Posner hits the target on this one: 'The temptation to lump distinct practices in with plagiarism should be resisted for the sake of clarity; "self-plagiarism," for example, should be recognized as a distinct practice and rarely an objectionable one.' All successful writers 're-purpose' their work for profit and influence, but they should always be forthright with potential publishers on whether the work is brand new or recycled."

I think of the practice of H.L. Mencken, who would write a short article for The Evening Sun, then revise and enlarge to magazine length, and finally repurpose it again for one of his books. (Bach and Handel regularly reworked material from one composition for another; were they self-plagiarists?)

In my opinion, there's are some even stranger things about this protean offense.

Here's one example. When a student buys an essay from an essay mill and submits it for a class assignment, that's a clearly culpable case of one variety of plagiarism. It doesn't really matter whether the essay was a basic pre-written model, or a more expensive custom-made product — though the latter is harder to detect and prove. In contrast, when a university president issues a statement ghostwritten by a staff member, or by someone hired for the occasion, that's the normal conduct of business.  But if it turns out that the speechwriter copied some passages from material previously attributed to another source, that's plagiarism again.

This same weird ethos applies to ghostwritten articles and books. The fact that such a work was not written by its nominal author is not exactly a journalistic scoop, and indeed is probably not even a publishable observation by normal journalistic standards. Even if the ghostwriter hires a ghost-ghostwriter to do some of the work, that's about as exciting as an architect hiring a subcontractor. But suppose it turns out that the ghostwriter (or the ghost-ghostwriter) copied significant passages from material previously attributed to someone else, or written by an anonymous or collective author such as Wikipedia…

It's logical to want student work to represent the student's own capabilities (though not their capability to hire others to do their work for them). And it's logical not to care much whether executives or politicians write their own statements, speeches, and op-eds, though I think we should do a better job of explaining to students why the cases differ. But this leaves us (me, anyhow) uncertain how to evaluate the case of public intellectuals whose stuff is partly or entirely written by "researchers" or other "assistants".

And when those researchers or assistants or ghostwriters copy someone else's work? Well, um, …



  1. D-AW said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    Isn't one of the cases where self-plagiarism is clearly objectionable and almost always punishable that of a student paper (e.g. resubmitted work from another class)? And doesn't this point to a fundamental difference between student plagiarism and other kinds, even academic plagiarism on the part of researchers? It seems to me that a class assignment is unlike other forms of production because it is the activity of producing it that is important to the instructor, rather than the finished product. The issue of credit is bound up in this, but it's distinct, I think.

  2. chris said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 8:01 am

    One thing you can say for self-plagiarism: it's never done without the original author's permission.

    And I'm not so sure that self-plagiarism by a student is objectionable either. It's not even the activity of producing it, but the *capability* of producing it, that is important, IMO; and if you wrote it once, even for some other purpose, you are clearly able to write it.

    But then, I'm not a teacher.

  3. JLR said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    I think one of the issues in the public intellectual/pundit case is the problem of moral hazard. The pundit gets to take all the credit when everything goes well, but when something goes wrong with a plagiarism accusation, it was their researcher "being sloppy", and the researcher then gets canned as a result. The pundit has essentially been insulated from having to take any responsibility for what they have putatively written.

  4. Thom said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    As education seeks greater integration between disciplines, this is an issue that could be worked out by the professors with the student. Let the student write one paper in place of two or three while demanding higher standards in writing ability and research. Focus more on argument, revisition, and audience–areas that are often in dire need of improvement.

    Of course, this is the same quantity vs. quality argument, that has long existed…personally, I prefer quality.

  5. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    Some years ago, basketball player Charles Barkley was criticized for a statement that appeared in his "autobiography." Barkley's defense: "I was misquoted."

  6. Karl Schnapp said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 9:06 am

    I don't consider "self-plagiarism" a problem, not for politicians, administrators, or students. And I believe that because of the nature of academic writing. What are we asking students to do when we require them to write for class? I think we asking them to practice skills and/or demonstrate their knowledge. If students have a piece of writing they produced at an earlier time that demonstrates their knowledge and/or skills, then the problem lies with the assignment or the student's placement in a class that isn't asking her/him to grow, improve, expand.

    Some assignments may be asking students to entertain readers or to express their feelings. But only rarely do assignments ask students to inform or persuade or affect readers. That seems to me to be the problem with most student writing assignments: we ask students to "practice" or to demonstrate.

  7. Charles said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 10:22 am

    The problem with self-plagiarism occurs when the author no longer owns the copyright and thus doesn't have permission to use the material without citing it as s/he would any other source. As Bach and Handel likely owned their work, they can't be accused of self-plagiarism in the same way as someone who doesn't own their work.

    When a student buys a paper, it becomes the student's property. So, although I wouldn't consider it plagiarism, I would consider it to be violating the purpose of learning in a course, and so there would be a penalty. Similarly, the work of speechwriters belongs to the politicians and executives. However, in contrast, they aren't violating any specific purpose, so it is in a different category (unless there are cultural expectations otherwise). Still, if the speechwriter has plagiarized, then it is a violation of copyright. For the politicians and executives, then, it's caveat emptor.

  8. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    For scholarship, isn't the obvious solution self-citation? So I could say in a footnote, "this book chapter is a revision of my article x, and also draws upon material I developed in my article y." Not having this language makes me a self-plagiarist, although self-plagiarism is an offense far less serious, so best scholarly practices would require some acknowledgments of previous development of ideas. I say this as a person who obsessively works through ideas from my own previous publications.

  9. Jo said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    Self-plagiarism (also known as "recycling fraud"[24]) is the reuse of significant, identical, or nearly identical portions of one's own work without acknowledging that one is doing so or without citing the original work. Articles of this nature are often referred to as duplicate or multiple publication. In addition to the ethical issue, this can be illegal if copyright of the prior work has been transferred to another entity. Typically, self-plagiarism is only considered to be a serious ethical issue in settings where a publication is asserted to consist of new material, such as in publishing or factual documentation.[25] It does not apply (except in the legal sense) to public-interest texts, such as social, professional, and cultural opinions usually published in newspapers and magazines.

    In academic fields, self-plagiarism occurs when an author reuses portions of his own published and copyrighted work in subsequent publications, but without attributing the previous publication.[26] Identifying self-plagiarism is often difficult because limited reuse of material is accepted both legally (as fair use) and ethically.[27]

    It is common for university researchers to rephrase and republish their own work, tailoring it for different academic journals and newspaper articles, to disseminate their work to the widest possible interested public. However, these researchers also obey limits: If half an article is the same as a previous one, it will usually be rejected. One of the functions of the process of peer review in academic writing is to prevent this type of "recycling"..[citation needed]

  10. Ray Girvan said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 12:16 pm


    I've never been clear if there's an agreed definition of plagiarism: is it the act of stealing someone else's work and passing it off as your own, or of passing off someone else's work as your own, or both?

    In my personal idiolect, it's always required the theft element: I might consider hiring a ghost-writer or using a bought-in essay as dishonest/fraudulent, but (as it's a consensual deal between nominal author and real author) not class it as plagiarism.

  11. D-AW said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    @Karl Schnapp – You're begging the question, here. While practising skills and demonstrating knowledge may be part of what students have to do to write an essay, it's not the core of what [I anyway] am asking them to do in attempting the essay, which is precisely to grow [their understanding], improve [their engagement with texts], and extend [their intellectual limits]. None of these goals can be achieved by not doing anything, or not doing anything new. The student who recycles an essay is [in most cases] attempting to deceive an instructor into believing that such engagement and expansion have taken place. In this way recycling is morally identical to plagiarism, though in other ways it may be show significant differences.

  12. bianca steele said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

    Drilling down the links a bit, there's a claim that it's plagiarism unless the writer has read the text two or three times, closed the book, walked away for a while, come back, and wrote out from memory what he or she believes was conveyed by the text (then added a footnote, obviously, and also double-checked that no out-of-the-ordinary turns of phrase match what is in the original text). That seems more likely to produce clumsy and amateurish writing. In any case, for certain kinds of writing, it's inappropriate.

  13. Jeff Carney said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

    FWIW, the following policies are used at my institution. I won't bother citing them any further than that, since I am in fact the author:

    Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of words or ideas taken from an outside source (which may be a book, article, film, television program, CD, web page, student essay, etc.). . . . The following behaviors are considered plagiarism:

    plagiarism of words: using the exact words of a source (that is, word-for-word copying) without indicating that the words have been borrowed (usually by placing them within quotation marks);

    plagiarism of ideas: presenting the ideas of a source without citing the source (at the very least by naming the source; in a documented paper, by providing bibliographic information as well);

    “whole-cloth” plagiarism: misrepresenting the work of another person (an encyclopedia article, a friend’s essay, an essay purchased from a service, etc.) as one’s original work.

    The following item is considered cheating rather than plagiarism:

    . . . submitting essentially the same work for credit in more than one course. (An exception can be made when the amount of work submitted meets or exceeds the total amount of work required. . . .)

    Out of curiosity, I Googled some of the language pasted above and a cursory glance found similar policies at UT Austin and UNC Charlotte. So I'm guessing there's a lot of consistency, at least at the student level of Academia.

  14. marie-lucie said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    Karl Schnapp: If students have a piece of writing they produced at an earlier time that demonstrates their knowledge and/or skills, then the problem lies with the assignment or the student's placement in a class that isn't asking her/him to grow, improve, expand.

    If student placement is left to the students, many of them might not want to "grow, improve, expand" if they can get away with placing themselves at a lower level than the one which would require them to do these things, in the expectation of getting a high grade at that lower level.

    Jeff Carney: I'm guessing there's a lot of consistency, at least at the student level of Academia.

    This is because the administrators or faculty committees read the documents provided by other universities (especially by the ones considered "leading") and more or less plagiarize them. I would be surprised if you had not done so yourself before writing your institution's policies. In this case though, using basically the same ideas and the same words is not necessarily a fault: it would not be good for academic credibility if policies at different universities were drastically different about a common problem. But writing policy is not the same as presenting the results of one's research or creative work, which is when plagiarism becomes a problem.

  15. Andy Averill said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

    Since you bring up Bach, he also transcribed works by Vivaldi, Telemann, Albinoni and others. This was common practice in those days, and obviously he wasn't trying to pass off those works as his own.

  16. Andy Averill said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

    @Jo — are you giving us an ironic or meta kind of thing by lifting from wikipedia without attribution?

  17. Nick Lamb said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

    marie-lucie: actually IMO it is problematic. If the desired outcome is the same everywhere the text of the rule should be the same, this makes everybody's life easier. Just like with metrication and other standardisations. Imperfect copies introduce errors, which then cannot be systematically corrected because of the variations. The practice of paraphrasing somebody else's rules about plagiarism is at best wasteful and often also dishonest, yet it will doubtless continue.

    Resistance to citation is likewise ironic from academics. Which isn't to say they're any worse for it than everybody else, quite the contrary, but for a group of people whose careers grow or shrivel by citations it shouldn't be this hard to get them to understand why they have to write down where they got things from. And yet, outside of formal academic papers (and sometimes even then) they often try to avoid giving anybody else credit for anything.

    The World Wide Web put an end to the lie that we didn't cite things for lack of space. Now, in deciding not to provide citations despite having an infinitely large canvas on which to do so we are obliged to confront the reality, we don't offer citations because we don't want to face up to how little of what we did was genuinely original and how much was borrowed, re-purposed, paraphrased, inspired or whatever other word we're using.

  18. Roger Lustig said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

    It was also common practice to rework the music of others and call it one's own without acknowledgement of the source. Handel was famous/notorious for this practice. The famous "Largo" from Serse is based on a tune from an opera written before Handel was born. Israel in Egypt is full of borrowings from others, and Handel certainly never gave credit.

    Friends of mine who teach undergrad music history have encountered students who take moral offense at this, as have scholars in the past. But, as Mattheson said in one of those rare passages that gains in translation, what is borrowed must be repaid with interest. Handel did that pretty reliably.

    And then there's jazz, not only obvious quotations in the middle of a solo–anything from nursery rhymes to Ornithology to the Quartet from Rigoletto–but also the whole practice of carrying a "bag" of gestures, formulas, etc., most of them obtained through listening, many of them hardly modified as they become part of one's style.

  19. What Counts as Plagiarism? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    [...] The American Copy Editors Society is organizing a National Summit on Plagiarism and Fabrication, which will take place on April 5, and this has led a number of people to start thinking about plagiarism issues in advance of the event. One of the more interesting contributions to the discussion has been Roy Peter Clark's Why we should stop criminalizing practices that are confused with plagiarism, at Clark argues that discussions of plagiarism in the field of journalism are often too loose to be helpful. Clark's argument has led to some interesting discussion at You Don't Say and Language Log. [...]

  20. Adam said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

    Some years ago, basketball player Charles Barkley was criticized for a statement that appeared in his "autobiography." Barkley's defense: "I was misquoted."

    It can happen: I've misquoted myself (because of memory lapses).

  21. Adam said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    In contrast, when a university president issues a statement ghostwritten by a staff member, or by someone hired for the occasion, that's the normal conduct of business.

    Maybe we ought to consider that unethical and demand that officials speaking publicly should acknowledge their sources, instead of pretending to be more intellectual or better informed than they really are?

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

    To Charles' point, a famous example of alleged self-plagiarism in the rock and roll business is what ended up as (on a collateral issue) the Supreme Court decision in Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc. John Fogerty was on famously bad terms with his former label Fantasy Records, who owned all the rights associated with his earlier work with CCR, and when
    Fogerty attempted a comeback in the mid-80's, Fantasy sued him on the grounds that one of the "new" songs infringed the copyright in one of Fogerty's own prior songs that Fantasy rather than Fogerty now owned (Fogerty was presumably not offering to pay Fantasy royalties for the new recording __ specifically, the claim was that "The Old Man Down the Road" infringed the copyright on "Run Through the Jungle.") Ultimately, a jury found for Fogerty, but Fantasy didn't get laughed out of court.

    Obviously copyright infringement is not entirely the same thing as plagiarism, but it's a useful reminder that in both spheres sometimes someone other than the author may have a cognizable interest in protecting the distinctiveness of the earlier work against dilution/repurposing in later works, regardless of who (including the author himself) is doing so.

  23. D-AW said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

    Plagiarism isn't the same thing as copyright infringement — conceptually, morally or legally — even if the the two overlap from time to time [and sometimes completely]. This conflation, in evidence in many of the comments here, may be at the root [or may be one root] of what Clark is discussing.

  24. Aaron Toivo said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

    @D-AW: If you are teaching English, then asking everyone to grow and improve while in your class, while a noble goal, would seem to ignore certain realities. First, that real improvement depends at least as much on interest and engagement in the topic at hand as it does on practice by task repetition – whereas locking students in an random-topic essay factory seems superbly designed to kill as much interest and engagement as it possibly can. Not to mention the sheer drudgery of having to write about the same uninteresting thing a second time. Second, by the time they arrive in college, many students have no doubt already reached as much of their writing potential as they are realistically going to reach through academic exercise. And third, failing to reward previously developed ability deprives students of any incentive for long-term overall improvement and actively motivates them to produce lower-quality work than they could produce, so as to leave themselves room to appear to "improve" as each class progresses. (I did that all the time when I was in school. Standard trick.)

    For these reasons among others, I cannot find your goal sufficiently worthwhile in practice that a student's thwarting it by recycling their own previous work should be any manner of moral violation.

  25. Jason said,

    March 30, 2013 @ 10:32 pm

    Perhaps we could tie this in with the peculiar phenomenon of pop stars such as Katy Perry having to speak to the deep significance, motivations and intentions that lie behind her most recent ephemeral pop hit, instead of just explaining that, like every other pop performer, most of her songs are written by other people and many float around the pop song market as generic commodities for months or years before one performer or another picks them up, so maybe you should just ask Cathy Dennis or Max Martin what it means.

  26. peter said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 1:57 am

    The President of my university attends a dozen or more official graduation ceremonies each year. At each one, he gives the very same speech, year on year, with the same jokes and pauses and profundities, with only a paragraph different on each occasion to include something topical. Many politicians do the same.

  27. tk said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 7:07 am

    While working on my dissertation in Anthropology, I discovered that a noted author, a powerhouse in the discipline, had thrice (not twice, but thrice)
    published the same diatribe against one of our cherished notions in as many years, and then twice more a few years later, for a total of four self-plagiarisms of the original paper. A record?

  28. Joseph F Foster said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 7:13 am

    Pace copyright ownership constraints, I refuse to regard "self-plagiarism" as a thing, as the kids say. It isnt plagiarism.

    As to turning in for one, possibly redundant, class a paper a student wrote for another previously taken class, I do not regard that as plagiarism; I do not regard it as cheating. I regard it as a judicious use of one's effort and time, and I will not, repeat, not enforce any university rules labelling it as "plagiarism" or "cheating".

    Maybe what is wrong is the whole genre of assignment called the "term paper" and maybe universities and colleges ought grow up.

  29. dporpentine said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    Self-plagiarism seems to me a problem for professional researchers mainly when either (a) the debt to earlier work isn't acknowledged, as it easily can be by something as routine as a citation or (b) when it seems clearly done as a mechanism for CV padding. I've known search committees to reject candidates for (b) and editors to turn down articles for (a), even after they've passed peer review.

    I should note that these instances are entirely in the humanities, where there's a bit more of a literary burden on writers (in terms of originality, if not the quality of the writing ) and also not the rhetorical expectation/demand that each article contain a review of literature.

  30. Adrian said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

    I agree with Joseph.

  31. Sybil said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

    I agree with Joseph and Adrian.

  32. Keith said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    I see no problem in "self-plagiarism".

    Re-using the same information in multiple applications is, in my opinion, a very useful skill that students should acquire. Don't re-invent the wheel, and don't duplicate research unless you have a good reason to expect that you'll get different results.

    As part of my undergraduate programme I studied the economic and political systems of the European Union and of its member states; this part of the course was taught in English. I also studied the economy and political systems of France; this part of the course was taught in French.

    On several occasions material presented in the classes in English (or that I researched from library resources) turned out to be useful for the French part of the course, and vice versa. So naturally sometimes I could recycle a block of English text from a paper by rewriting it into French.


  33. peter said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

    Of course, the entire discussion of plagiarism we are currently having (at least in the West) is complicated in computer science by the programming crisis of the 1960s: too many software applications needing doing, and not enough programmers to do them all. So the discipline of software engineering got to work and came up with all manner of methods for leveraging expertise: re-usable code, modular architectures, object-oriented programming languages, programming libraries, open-source code, computer-aided software engineering, model-driven architectures, usw. Most popular languages, for instance, have hundreds or thousands of freely-available code libraries. The functions or classes in these code libraries may even have named authors, and conditions of re-use, which require subsequent citing by those who use them.

    No commercial programmer worth his or her salary would nowadays program from scratch their own pseudo-random number generator (PRNG), let alone their own algorithm for finding square roots. Only when the program function is critical to the application or to its quality (as when a PRNG function has a material impact on the speed of a high-frequency trading algorithm, for example) do programmers even consider these issues as ones requiring their own bespoke solutions.

    At least among programmers, the academic and social forces driving the re-use of code are contrary to the academic and social forces scornful of the re-use of text. Is it any wonder students are confused?

  34. Rodger C said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

    The only time I penalized "self-plagiarism" was when a student gave me a paper without bothering to modify the original course information except with a pencil. I wrote "FLAKY!" and took off a letter, as much for form as anything else. Unfortunately I don't think today's students understand "flaky" except in reference to biscuits.

  35. E Rorie said,

    April 1, 2013 @ 7:28 am

    Raymond Chandler recycled scenes and plot elements from his early short stories and used them in his novels. He prevented the republication of those stories in anthologies during his lifetime because he felt that, because they had been "cannibalized," they should not be offered for sale a second time.

  36. Mr Punch said,

    April 1, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    I believe that the essence of plagiarism is passing something off as your own when it isn't. Self-plagiarism, on that basis, cannot exist. Plagiarism of ideas can exist only where original ideas are expected – formal scholarship, pretty much. To my mind, failure to cite sources in, say, popular history (e.g., Doris Kearns Goodwin's case) is clearly discourteous but not clear-cut plagiarism. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "plagiarism" of his doctoral dissertation, in which he (a student) relied too heavily on (a) his subject, (b) writings of a professor in his program, and (c) a recent dissertation in his program, could not have been intended to fool his readers and therefore doesn't qualify at all.

  37. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 1, 2013 @ 11:52 am

    In his original post linked to above, Mr. McIntyre said that in "self-plagiarism" the "crossing of the ethical boundary comes, as Mr. Clark suggests, when the writer tries to fob off old work as new." That's a different issue than "passing off something as your own [whatever that might mean?] when it isn't," but it's not necessarily a non-issue. Perhaps it's confusing to treat the former as if it were a subset or variant of the latter, but I'm not sure if a standard and easily-understood alternative to "self-plagiarism" exists as a label for the former. The real problems, of course, arises from silence. Is written work presumed to be "new" (or "your own") unless otherwise specified, or is it presumed not to be unless specifically claimed to be such? Well, that seems to depend on the context and the context-specific expectations of various participants in the situation, and where different participants do not agree on the (perhaps themselves implicit) ground rules of the context, difficulties are bound to arise.

  38. KevinM said,

    April 1, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    McIntyre: (Bach and Handel regularly reworked material from one composition for another; were they self-plagiarists?)
    Bad example, because they also freely reworked material by others. One of the most famous "Bach" arias, Bist du bei mir, is not his. The 4-harpsichord concerto , some organ pieces, etc.,were ripped straight from Vivaldi. So if the argument is "self-plagiarism can't be real plagiarism because Bach and Handel did it," then I'm afraid not; they did real plagiarism, too. Probably the only moral to be drawn is the familiar one that lesser artists plagiarize; great ones steal. (I borrowed that.)

  39. Michael Johnson said,

    April 2, 2013 @ 3:47 am

    I really don't understand why so many people think self-plagiarism (even if you don't want to call it that) among students is acceptable. It's not, and for very clear reasons.

    Suppose I write one paper, and publish it in 10 distinct, quality peer-reviewed scholarly journals. I go up for tenure and say: "look, one has to pass the publication test for quality 10 times and I did so. Give me tenure." That's ridiculous. My body of work is insufficient.

    Suppose a student writes a paper, and submits it as a final paper for 10 classes. This isn't altogether impossible as lots of final paper topics are left to the students, and a paper on e.g. confirmation holism could well go over in a philosophy of language class, a philosophy of science class, an epistemology class, a decision theory class, a class on Quine, a history of analytic philosophy class… It seems a lot of people in this thread have argued that that's OK, because passing a class = mastering enough of the material to write a passing final paper, which the student did, once. But now this student has a degree in philosophy, and she's only ever written one paper on the subject. That should surely strike you as inappropriate.

  40. Michael Johnson said,

    April 2, 2013 @ 3:50 am

    On a totally unrelated topic to my previous post:

    Plagiarism is presenting someone else's words or ideas as one's own, so we're told.

    It's plagiarism to present a corporate body's words (e.g. Wikipedia's words) as one's own.

    It's not plagiarism to present a corporate body's ideas as one's own– for example, reporting common knowledge.

  41. jaap said,

    April 2, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    Self-plagiarism can be a big problem in scientific papers. Suppose someone writes two papers based on the same bit of research, and which therefore use the same dataset. If due to self-plagiarism (i.e. not referencing the other paper) those papers are later percieved to be independent pieces of research, they will seem to corroborate each other and so give the results an undeservedly greater statistical significance. In other words, duplication seems like replication.

    If there are only a few small studies on a new medicine, for example, such duplication can skew the results so much that a costly large trial is done when the actual evidence does not really warrant it.

  42. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 2, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    Michael Johnson: The problem with that, it seems to me, doesn't come when one publishes the same material ten times. It comes when one tells the tenure committee that those ten publications qualify one for not perishing.

    On the other hand, I allow my physics students to write a paper on a physics-related topic of their choice for extra credit. The purpose of that, I tell them, is for them to learn some physics in the process of researching it, so I have not (knowingly) let students turn in papers they wrote for other classes.

  43. Boris said,

    April 3, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

    I have once submitted a largely self-plagiarized report in history class in high school (from the year before, different teacher) only to be accused of (regular) plagiarism by the teacher (he also accused the entire class (!) of similar offenses). The basis was that I used language that a high school student would not use, so therefore it must have been copied from somewhere. The fact that he didn't penalize me much (a B grade and a stern lecture about how such behavior in college would get me thrown out) didn't diminish the hurt nor the irony of the situation (That I in fact produced that language a year earlier than he thought). Exhibit A was the word "lofty". He even called me "lofty Boris" for the rest of the year.

    Although I complained vociferously, I did not attempt to take it up with the principal for fear of turning an off-the-record slap on the wrist into something worse on the record for self-plagiarism. Was it wrong for me to do what I did? If the objective was to submit a well-researched relevant topical paper or demonstrate knowledge of the subject, I would say no. If it was to spend X hours learning more about historical events, maybe it was. I didn't try to find out, though.

  44. Rachel said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 8:03 am

    Resubmitting the exact same paper (for a class assignment) is self- plagiarism and shouldn't happen, primarily because you are supposed to be learning a new skill or task for the course and assignments should (in theory) be entirely different…

    However, when submitting articles to journals I think this rule goes much too far in that everything (100% of an article) must be original. How is the journal going to "not benefit" if it contains similar information? If anything the author gets more exposure than not, and perhaps the journal more readership. Also because it is your own work, you are the source of the originality, not the journal itself.

  45. Rachel said,

    April 4, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    Also- if every teacher actually used self-plagiarism would show up and the students could (in theory) be stopped in their tracks… Many graduate teachers however, do not use it. I think this is a very sad state of affairs. In my own graduate school program I tutored someone who used the exact same paper for 3 classes and a comprehensive exam. The teachers never caught her.

  46. Plagiarists and Frauds Posing as Intellectuals | Revolutionary Paideia said,

    May 8, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

    [...] John McIntyre on varieties of plagiarism ( [...]

  47. Toby Wardman — Things I like on the web (summer 2013) said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 10:33 am

    [...] Musings on ghost writing and plagiarism [...]

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