Nature Medicine’s insider’s guide to plagiarism

Nature Medicine is the latest Nature journal to address the question of plagiarism. In its July Editorial (Nat. Med. 15, 707; 2009) the journal opines that scientific plagiarism—a problem as serious as fraud—has not received all the attention it deserves. The Editorial outlines a strategy that, it says, all-too-frequently works:

“You don’t have the resources to do the experiments? Don’t worry! A little creative writing might be all you need to sail through the financial crisis. Here’s how: use a solid paper as your base; carry out a parallel set of experiments in your favorite model; tweak the data so that the numbers are not identical but remain realistic; and, when you’re ready to write it all up, paraphrase the original paper ad libitum. Last, submit your new manuscript to a modest journal in the hopes that the authors of the paper you used as ‘inspiration’ won’t notice your ‘tribute’ to their work—even though imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, their approval of your ‘reworking’ of their paper cannot be guaranteed. If all goes well, getting a couple of these manuscripts under your belt might make all the difference when you apply for that elusive grant.”

The Editorial goes on to outline some common unethical practices in more detail, concluding that "journals have a vested interest in protecting their rights over what they publish. It is therefore not surprising that online tools, such as iThenticate, designed to spot similarities between an input text and the published literature, are becoming popular among publishers. But as with every other type of scientific misconduct, it is ultimately the community that needs to set appropriate standards and penalties to fight plagiarism."

Nature journals’ policies on plagiarism and fabrication; on duplicate publication; and on image integrity and standards.


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