Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“Bird vocalizations” and other best-ever plagiarism excuses: A wrap-up of the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity

with 14 comments

What are the best excuses you’ve seen for plagiarism? James Kroll, at the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General, has collected a bunch over the years (click on the image to enlarge):

kroll plagiarism excuses

Bird vocalizations. Really.

Kroll’s slide was part of a 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity talk he gave on his office’s investigations into allegations of misconduct. The 3rd WCRI — the first was in Lisbon in 2006, and the second in Singapore in 2009 — gathered international leaders in research integrity for three-and-a-half days.

For example, David Wright, of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, spoke on the incredible lengths — think faked emails — that researchers will go to hide the evidence of their fraud. And Nature executive editor Véronique Kiermer discussed the troubling and growing trend of “sloppiness” she and her colleagues have seen.

The WCRI was the final stop on a five-day trip to Montreal by Ivan earlier this month. The visit started at Concordia on May 3, where he gave a talk titled “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: What Retractions Tell Us About Scientific Integrity.” On the 5th, he spoke to the Council of Science Editors as part of a panel, “The Life of a Retraction.”

Here’s Ivan’s presentation from the WCRI. (Our French-speaking readers can take a look at this account.) Speaking of excuses for plagiarism, some of journals’ top euphemisms appear in slides 18-22 (use the forward and back buttons to watch the whole talk):

[slideshare id=21166018&doc=wcrimontrealmay72013-130514092158-phpapp01]

Written by Ivan Oransky

May 14th, 2013 at 11:00 am

  • CR May 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Sorry, didn´t get it: what´s to do with the bird vocalizations? The fifth excuse is the one I see most of times. Another one quite common relates with the amount copied: many claim just one sentence/paragraph (from each author) copied is not really plagiarism.

    • Noah May 16, 2013 at 8:16 am

      I agree. Any explanation about the bird vocalizations? My imagination is running wild…

      • speddoc23 January 16, 2016 at 1:32 pm

        I’m visualizing the writer sitting by the window, being harassed by a flock of crows…or pigeons, or sea gulls vocalizing in Hitchcock fashion.

  • Miguel May 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Ivan, the Moon case was fascinating. Thanks for sharing it at the conference.

  • John Mashey May 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    I notice the “only introduction or background” reason was first on the list.

    Any opinions on that? Specifically, does anyone know of cases where a university:
    A) rejected a plagiarism complaint for this reason (to be clear, rejecting it as plagiarism, not as accepting as plagiarism, but weighing during adjudication as of lesser importance)

    B) Interprets misconduct policy categorically that introductory sections don’t count for plagiarism or falsification.

    • Alan R Price May 16, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      John, we established in the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) a policy related to your question:
      see at: — excluding background / literature review material:

      Substantial unattributed textual copying of another’s work means the unattributed verbatim or nearly verbatim copying of sentences and paragraphs which materially mislead the ordinary reader regarding the contributions of the author. ORI generally does not pursue the limited use of identical or nearly-identical phrases which describe a commonly-used methodology or previous research because ORI does not consider such use as substantially misleading to the reader or of great significance.

      We had in ORI too many trivial allegations of copying of words describing previous research that would not mislead the expert reader as to the origin of the ideas and prior work, so not significant to be “misconduct”

    • jmdesp May 17, 2013 at 3:59 am

      Maybe there should be accepted practices about how to reuse text in an introductory or background section, when it’s obvious it’s not claimed to be new, and just included to make the study more accessible to people who are not aware of every relevant context of the domain, whilst of course acknowledging properly where it actually comes from.

  • C. Charming-Onassis (@originalname37) May 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve gone to the conference website and I still don’t know if this is the 3rd instance of the “World Conference on Research Integrity” or a conference on research integrity that has something to do with the “third world”.

    • ivanoransky May 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

      From the post above: “The 3rd WCRI — the first was in Lisbon in 2006, and the second in Singapore in 2009 — gathered international leaders in research integrity for three-and-a-half days.”

  • ferniglab May 14, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    A very enjoyable set of slides! Miss Labeling is Miss Grouping’s older sister and they have worked in a number of labs around the world.

  • BoDuke May 15, 2013 at 10:19 am

    So why the focus on the third world?

    • ivanoransky May 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

      No focus on the the third world in particular. From the post: “The 3rd WCRI — the first was in Lisbon in 2006, and the second in Singapore in 2009 — gathered international leaders in research integrity for three-and-a-half days.”

      • Motard May 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        Well, now that this is the second comment to confuse the Third World – at least this shouldn’t be as much of a problem with subsequent meetings, one hopes.

        • ferniglab May 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm

          The use of 3rd, as opposed to “Third” should have made it clear….

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