DURHAM, NC – Plagiarism – verbatim reprinting of another person’s work without credit – is a termination offense in most workplaces and can easily result in a student being suspended or even expelled.
But what about the so-called “autoplagiarism”, reusing your own words?
It depends, says a group of researchers who have spent years studying text recycling in STEM fields and developing clear guidelines specifically for researchers.
“There is nothing clear and authoritative about it,” said Professor Duke of the practice Cary Moskovitz, leader of the National Science Foundation-funded multi-agency project and editorial director in the disciplines of the Duke’s Thompson writing program.
Each field and each scientific journal seems to have its own rules, often unwritten, on the recycling of texts. âThere was no set standard for practice, no central authority and a lot of underlying dismay,â Moskovitz said. âThis is the highlight of publishing ethics. “
Building on their extensive research and with input from experts in publishing and research ethics, the Text Recycling Research Project has now produced the kind of advice authors and publishers need.
On June 25, the group released its first official TRRP documents: a set of best practices for researchers, two guides to understanding text recycling – one for researchers and one for publishers – and a white paper on recycling. of text in the writing of research under US copyright law. . The group is currently working on a set of model text recycling policies for publishers.
The gist of the group is that it’s probably okay to reuse some of the methods, and maybe part of the introduction, in a scientific paper, but “the results and the discussion should be fresh,” Moskovitz said. And transparency, with editors and readers, is key.
Other commonly accepted practices include repeating some of the written context for a grant proposal in an article resulting from the grant and reusing material from a conference poster in a journal article.
Plagiarism probably dates back to clay tablets, but the text analysis software available today makes it much easier to find material repeated in time and space. A search for “self-plagiarism” on the web generates tons of serious warnings, many of which are produced by manufacturers of plagiarism checking software that professors use to scan essays, such as Turnitin, quetext, and iThenticate, with what amounts to a zero tolerance policy.
But in a March article in Inside Higher Ed, Moskovitz and co-author Aaron Colton, a speaker at the Thompson Writing Program, pointed to a strict and highly influential “white paper” published by iThenticate in 2011 that they said was “a misrepresentation of the realities and ethics of academic research – and a guide to worse, not better writing.
In response to the trial, iThenticate’s marketing manager committed to removing the whitepaper and reworking the company’s approach to text recycling.
A zero-tolerance policy against text recycling doesn’t meet the needs of science or scientists very well, Moskovitz says. There is an important distinction between a research team who repeat parts of their literature review for the sake of accuracy and effort and an unethical scientist who copies and pastes the work of other authors. .
For example, the methods section of a scientific article is the recipe part: “We added this amount of Substance 1 to a beaker of Substance 2, added 15 nanoliters of this special enzyme, baked it for 90 minutes at 35 Centigrade , then spun in a centrifuge. The recipe is precise, so why not repeat it verbatim to ensure accuracy from paper to paper? What would be the point of blurring the order of the elements and substituting one or two synonyms to avoid the appearance of copying?
Advice from the Text Recycling Research Project is based in part on a survey of the beliefs and attitudes of editors and editorial boards, in-depth interviews with about two dozen academic publishers, and a survey of expert and novice researchers. in STEM disciplines.
The team also looked at articles published with their own text analysis software to gain a better understanding of what recycling actually looks like in today’s journals. âIt’s rare to find papers without recycling,â Moskovitz said.
The project also examines the legal analysis of text recycling in copyright and contract law. Having found only one article on the subject, they did their own legal analysis. David Hansen, director of copyright and scholarly communications for Duke Libraries and Mitch Yelverton, senior director of research agreements with Duke University School of Medicine, collaborate on legal aspects. Additional white papers, on contract law and international copyright law, are underway.
To help clarify what is and what is not appropriate practice, the researchers found that they needed to develop a new taxonomy of text recycling. They proposed four types:
“Development recycling” involves reusing text from a grant proposal or conference poster in a journal article. This one is generally good.
âGenerative recyclingâ, when parts of a published part are used to create a new part. This may be acceptable, but it depends on the nature of the material (for example, is it methods or results) and the quantity.
“Adaptive editing” includes translating a published research article into another language or reusing the main content of an article in a book chapter. This may be acceptable, as long as the author obtains permission from the copyright holder and the new publisher knowingly accepts.
The fourth category is âDuplicate Publication,â the reissue of something that is essentially the same as a work you have previously published. It is simply not allowed.
To learn more, visit the Text Recycling Project.