Safety science might not be the most crowded field, nor its eponymous journal the title on every marquee, but here’s a general rule for would-be plagiarists even in relatively obscure publications: Avoid lifting text from government reports and other publicly available references. (Well, don’t plagiarize at all, but you know what we mean.)
Consider: The journal Safety Science is retracting a 2011 paper whose authors evidently failed to adhere to that principle. Here’s the notice for the article, “Agent-based simulation of fire emergency evacuation with fire and human interaction model,” by Yang Peizhong, Wang Xin and Liu Tao, of Shanghai Jiaotong University:
This article has been retracted at the request of the editor as the authors have plagiarized part of the Fire Dynamics Simulator with Evacuation: FDS+Evac Technical Reference and User’s Guide that had already appeared on http://www.vtt.fi/fdsevac/ and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 1019-5 NIST Special Publication (Version 5) User’s Guide Natl. Inst. Stand. Technol. Spec. Publ. 1019-5, 210 pages (October 2007) CODEN: NSPUE2. One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data should be appropriately cited. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.
We know we shouldn’t make light of fire safety. But that first source, “Fire Dynamics Simulator with Evacuation: FDS+Evac Technical Reference and User’s Guide” seems as though it might well have wound up in a Steve Martin routine — like his famous plumber’s gag:
“Ok, I don’t like to gear my material to the audience but I’d like to make an exception because I was told that there is a convention of plumbers in San Francisco this week – I understand about 30 of them came down to the show tonight – so before I came out I worked-up a joke especially for the plumbers. Those of you who aren’t plumbers probably won’t get this and won’t think it’s funny, but I think those of you who are plumbers will really enjoy this…
“This lawn supervisor was out on a sprinkler maintenance job and he started working on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom 7″ gangly wrench. Just then, this little apprentice leaned over and said, “You can’t work on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom 7″ wrench.” Well this infuriated the supervisor, so he went and got Volume 14 of the Kinsley manual, and he reads to him and says, “The Langstrom 7″ wrench can be used with the Findlay sprocket.” Just then, the little apprentice leaned over and said, “It says sprocket not socket!”
Joke courtesy of Mike Whitmore.