Is less publishing linked to more plagiarism?

glogoCountries that publish less science appear to “borrow” more language from others than other, more scientifically prolific countries, according to a new small study.

Using a novel approach of comparing a country’s total citations against its total published papers (CPP), the authors categorized 80 retractions from journals in general and internal medicine. This is a relatively small number of retractions from one specific field of research; still, they found that:

Thus, retractions due to plagiarism/duplication were 3.4 times more likely among low-CPP countries than among high-CPP countries.

The CPP authors’ suggested interpretation?

In countries with less tradition of research, procedures for ensuring academic integrity are also less widespread and, therefore, expansion of science in these countries leads to increases in the incidence of both retractions and plagiarism/duplication.

The paper is meant for comparisons only, so the authors don’t provide percentages for the actual rate of plagiarism in each group of countries. Looking elsewhere, we’ve seen a 2013 study of 2375 retractions from “scholarly” journals (meaning, not just PubMed sources) found plagiarism/duplication occurring in up to 46.3% of retractions, either as the sole reason for retraction or in combination with other causes, with higher rates found in non-English speaking countries (excluding Latin America). A 2013 paper in PLOS ONE found the rate of plagiarism and duplication among approximately 2,000 papers indexed in PubMed to range between 18 and 28%. Either way, a significant increase in typical plagiarism rates is notable.

Pere Puigdomènech wrote of similar concerns in his 2014 discussion of the expansion of research in Spain.  Increased funding for research and researchers’ salaries with changes in national funding plans may have meant more research output, he noted, but:

the prediction by some of us was that sooner or later problems of scientific integrity would appear in Spanish science.

The “Latin-American perspective,” given in a letter to the editors of Current Medical Research & Opinion, calls for the scientific community to “highlight the impact that plagiarism has on scientific publications, and promote good publishing practice in high- and also low-income countries, such as in Latin America.”

According to the authors of the CPP study published in the Sao Paolo Medical Journal:

Scientific misconduct is highly dependent on the scientific tradition and culture of a research group and, for strong scientific communities to be developed, generations of researchers need to be trained.

With two doctoral students listed as authors on the study (based at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and the Hospital Central do Exército in Brazil), it sounds like the training of a “generation” to beware the pitfalls of poor publication practices is already well underway.

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