Be consistent on plagiarism rules, says Nature Genetics

The US Department of Health and Social Security’s Public Health Service (PHS) ruled in 2005 that “Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.” in its November Editorial ‘Data divorce’, Nature Genetics (41, 1157; 2009) takes the Office of Research Integrity (part of the US Department of Health and Human Services) to task for producing a different definition:

Many allegations of plagiarism involve disputes among former collaborators who participated jointly in the development or conduct of a research project, but who subsequently went their separate ways and made independent use of the jointly developed concepts, methods, descriptive language, or other product of the joint effort. The ownership of the intellectual property in many such situations is seldom clear, and the collaborative history among the scientists often supports a presumption of implied consent to use the products of the collaboration by any of the former collaborators.

For this reason, ORI considers many such disputes to be authorship or credit disputes rather than plagiarism. Such disputes are referred to PHS agencies and extramural institutions for resolution.

Nature Genetics points out that this additional definition of plagiarism was considered but not included in the PHS statement, and asks the ORI to correct its definition of plagiarism to the one published by its parent body (PHS). By “providing a channel for fair and accountable investigation, the ORI also provides an important deterrent to scientific misconduct, not only for US researchers but, by example, for the global research community. Therefore, we suggest that it is counterproductive to the reporting of misconduct—and to the deterrence of misconduct—for the ORI to be seen to be turning away a significant proportion of its cases. Indeed, these are the very cases in which thefts of data and ideas are most likely to occur.”

Nature journals’ policy on plagiarism. (Includes links to relevant journal editorials, free to read online.)

NIH checklist of simple rules for researchers.


  1. Report this comment

    Bjoern Brembs said:

    Not to wake a sleeping dog, but nowhere in this text or the linked policy does it say that reproducing other researchers’ results with one’s own experiments amounts to plagiarism, as has been argued on NN on a previous occasion.

Comments are closed.