For authors seeking guidance on how to reuse their previously published material appropriately, resources are limited — and problematic, argue Cary Moskovitz and Aaron Colton.
In 2019, the Office of Scientific Integrity at our institution, Duke University, held a town hall meeting on plagiarism. It began with an overview that included material on self-plagiarism: the reuse of an author’s previously published material. A dean from the graduate school then spoke about the plagiarism-detection platform iThenticate, which compares submitted papers against published papers and identifies passages that are identical or nearly so. Many scientific journals and major granting agencies, we were told, are also using iThenticate. Now that Duke had adopted the software, those in attendance were encouraged to use it to check their manuscripts and grants for plagiarism and self-plagiarism prior to submission.
Many of us rely on iThenticate to determine whether all, or some of a paper has been plagiarised/self-plagiarised. Given the discussion in this paper, a reasonable question – at least when it comes to self-plagiarism, is whether we should be relying upon it? The complexities of compression plagiarism complicates this matter further.
Another difference is that STEM research articles usually have multiple authors — various combinations of faculty members, graduate students, research faculty members and postdocs. Some junior researchers may not yet have learned the norms for reusing materials in their discipline, and even experienced researchers may have different sensibilities about what’s appropriate when it comes to reuse. Further, because authors might draft different parts of an article, a principal investigator may not notice if a co-author has reused material in ways that they would deem inappropriate. In such situations, iThenticate-generated reports could help researchers not just to discover problems but also to facilitate learning regarding what is and is not considered acceptable practice.