The other day we wrote about a case of plagiarism in an education journal serving the Whole Schooling community. One of the questions we always ask editors and writers victimized by plagiarists is how they learned about the theft. The answer typically involves some version of “we were reading a new paper and saw some of our own words/figures/tables on the page.”
But in this instance, the story’s somewhat more interesting. We’ll let co-author Ana-Lisa Gonzalez tell it:
The second author on the article [Christopher Wolters] is a professor at UH [the University of Houston]. He gave an assignment that included covering a peer reviewed article that had yet to be covered in his course material. The young man proceeded with his presentation and Dr. Wolters recognized the information. When he got a copy of the article, he realized that all of the tables were exactly the same and that the article was at least 85% percent our work. Had he not chosen that article, it may have still been floating around out there.
Gonzalez’s prediction may or may not be correct. After all, the number of people who write and read articles for the Whole Schooling crowd couldn’t be very large, and the smaller the crowd, the less likely something is to go unread. But implicit in her comment is the assumption that much, if not the vast majority, of plagiarism goes undetected.
Although software and other screening tools definitely help, they’re only useful if editors and publishers take the initiative to employ them. And they should. Putting the onus on scholars to police their own work post-publication isn’t fair.
It strikes us as an abdication of responsibility by the journals, of a piece with the cop-out retraction notices that force readers to contact authors for more information.