Fraud in science is difficult to spot immediately, but, as high-profile cases show, it does get found out. Tackling plagiarism is at least becoming an easier fight, according to the July Editorial in Nature Physics (5, 449; 2009).
Scientific misconduct comes in many forms. Plagiarism, or “cut and paste” science, is one type, now being tackled by use of programs such as Déjà vu, which is based on the text-similarity software eTBLAST. From the Nature Physics Editorial: “When used on the Medline database, eTBLAST flagged up 74,790 pairs of papers similar in content or language. Following manual inspection, 2,125 have been labelled as duplicates, 1,697 as sanctioned, 1,498 as distinct, but the majority remain unverified. For two papers to be considered duplicates, they must share 85% of their text. Given the number of review articles and conference proceedings, the number of duplicates is not surprising — although it is surprising that most of the duplications by the same authors are usually published within five months of each other, which means that they were probably submitted to different journals at the roughly the same time — but 228 of the duplicates are from different authors, which suggests plagiarism. These cases are reported to the authors and journal editors.”
For publishers, CrossCheck is available for checking submissions against 20 million publications, and is used by Nature Publishing Group. The Editorial concludes by hoping that this kind of publication policing will feed into improved scientific practice — because it is only a matter of time before fraudsters are caught.