Up to 19% plagiarism is just fine, journal tells authors

Punjab University

Apparently, you can be a little bit pregnant. We’ll explain.

The other day we received an email from a researcher tipping us off to a remarkable admission from a journal in Pakistan about how much (as in, precisely how much) plagiarism it was willing to accept in its pages.

The publication, the Punjab University Journal of Mathematics, had approached the researcher (whom we’re not identifying, at their request) asking them to be a reviewer. When the scientist demurred, the following message arrived:

We also welcome research papers for possible publication of yours/students/colleagues in word/PDF file which plagiarism must be less than or equal to 19% as per Higher Education Commission, Pakistan.

I would like to mention that Punjab University Journal of Mathematics (PUJM) is an online peer reviewed open access Higher Education Commission recognized journal and falls in ‘X’  category which is the top one, above which, is the Impact Factor. Currently, the publication of research papers in the journal is no page fee and no subscription fee to access any of the published papers. PUJM is included in Master Journal List – Emerging Sources Citation Index. All the online papers at PUJM website from 2015 to onward are also included in Web of Science portal. The frequency of the journal is monthly. We are trying to get impact factor in July 2019. For further information please visit PUJM website http://www.pujm.com.pk/.

We hope you will cooperate us in review process as a Referee or as an Author of your research articles for possible publications in PUJM in the future.

Bundle of thanks.

Now, Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission does offer this guidance on plagiarism:

If the report has similarity index <=19%, then benefit of doubt may be given to the author but, in case, any single source has similarity index >=5% without citation then it needs to be revised.

We’re reasonably sure, however, that the Commission isn’t trying to encourage authors to walk right up the the 19% line. And plagiarism detection software offers similarity percentages, not “yes, this is plagiarism but this isn’t” rulings, a nuance some editors seem to miss. Not to mention there are types of plagiarism that will be missed by such software.

Since the the message to the would-be reviewer was signed by Muhammad Zaeem ul Haq Bhatti, the managerial secretary of the PUJM, we emailed him in hopes of clarifying the note, and received this reply:

First of all, thank you very much for your interest in Punjab University Journal of Mathematics. We will always encourage your submission in PUJM.

I would like to mention that Punjab University Journal of Mathematics (PUJM) is an online peer reviewed open access Higher Education Commission recognized journal and falls in ‘X‘ category which is the top one, above which, is the Impact Factor. Higher Education Commission has given very strict instructions about similarity Index. According to Higher Education Commission, Pakistan and Policy of Editorial Board of PUJM, any paper can not be considered which has more than 19% similarity index. Currently, the publication of research papers in the journal is free of cost, there is no page fee and no subscription fee to access any of the published papers. PUJM is also included in Master Journal List – Emerging Sources Citation Index. All the online papers at PUJM website from 2015 to onward are also included in Web of Science portal. The frequency of the journal is Monthly Basis.

In other words, we are still only 19% clear.

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5 thoughts on “Up to 19% plagiarism is just fine, journal tells authors”

  1. Oh Dear. Is it time for Retraction Watch to do a retraction? In this story about the Punjab University Journal of Mathematics in Pakistan, you show a picture of a building with the caption “Punjab University”. I do believe that picture was taken on the campus of Panjab University which is in Chandigarh, India. An easy mistake to make. The original Punjab University was split into two at Partition.

  2. In fairness, the plagiarism software I have used is not very good and has a high rate of false positives. An article written without any plagiarism may still score 5-10% if it is on a common topic.
    In some fields I could easily see how 19% of text would be the same as some other article somewhere – you have to define terms, describe methods etc and there are only so many ways to phrase the same thing. This is especially true for people whose first language isn’t English, who tend to have a narrower repertoire.

    1. I think we have to stop using the term “plagiarism software” or “plagiarism detector”. Let’s call these programs for what they are: text similarity detectors, and acknowledge that they do not look at the context of the words and that they ignore the plagiarism of images and ideas. At this point, we can also realise that quantifying plagiarism with percentages becomes a nonsense. That said, these programs are essential tools but not at all the entire solution in themselves.

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