A look at plagiarism at the Pontifical Gregorian University

Retraction Watch readers may recall the work of Michael Dougherty, who has established a reputation as a sleuth focused on plagiarism. We are pleased to present an excerpt of Dougherty’s new book, New Techniques for Proving Plagiarism: Case Studies from the Sacred Disciplines at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Studies in Research Integrity, vol. 2 (Leiden: Brill 2024).

The principles of textual criticism—borrowed from the fields of classics and medieval studies—have a valuable application for plagiarism investigations. Plagiarists share key features with medieval scribes who worked in scriptoriums and produced copies of manuscripts. Both kinds of copyists—scribes and plagiarists—engage in similar processes, and they commit certain distinctive copying errors that fall into identifiable classes. When committed by plagiarists, these copying errors have probative value for making determinations that a text is copied, and hence, unoriginal. 

To demonstrate fully that a text is a plagiarism of another text, one must show how the text is plagiarizing the other text. Many plagiarism researchers, as well as members of institutional research integrity committees, miss this step. They take the mere identification of textual overlap to be the upper limit of analysis. By stopping short, they leave themselves vulnerable to the typical defenses made—sometimes in bad faith—by academic malefactors and their apologists. Those defenses can include: a claim of independent fortuitous discovery; a claim that one was simply recalling a lecture from memory; a claim that one had cryptomnesia from reading many sources; and the like.

Continue reading A look at plagiarism at the Pontifical Gregorian University

The peer reviewers and editor wanted to publish my paper. The legal team rejected it.

Michael Dougherty

Move over, Reviewer 2: The legal reviewer wants your job. 

Last month, I was relieved when the journal Research Ethics published my article, “The Use of Confidentiality and Anonymity Protections as a Cover for Fraudulent Fieldwork Data.” One unexpected hurdle had almost thwarted publication. The problem wasn’t with the proverbial hard-to-please peer reviewer called Reviewer 2. Rather, the problem was with a behind-the-scenes reviewer of a different sort, Legal Reviewer 1.

I suspect that many authors have never heard of a legal reviewer. Yet depending on your research topics, you may have had your manuscripts delayed—or even rejected—without ever knowing of the powerful influence of persons in that role. In my case, the journal editor was candid in telling me that my manuscript would be sent to a “legal team” after clearing peer review.

Continue reading The peer reviewers and editor wanted to publish my paper. The legal team rejected it.

A two-year drama: The anatomy of a retraction request

Michael Dougherty

For more than a decade, I have been working with colleagues to request retractions from editors and publishers for plagiarizing articles, mostly in my discipline of philosophy and related fields. But almost two years ago I requested a retraction from a seismology journal. Since I have no training in the science of earthquakes, how did I get involved?

In June 2017 I read an article on Retraction Watch, “Plagiarism costs author five papers in five different journals” involving a researcher in civil engineering. The unrelated subject matters represented by each of the journals surprised me, as they involved refugee studies, educational philosophy, disaster medicine, and life quality studies. These are important disciplines, but they are not obviously related to each other, nor to civil engineering. 

A year later I wondered whether any more retractions had appeared for that same researcher, and I came across an unretracted 2011 article by that researcher in the journal Earthquake Science.  After two minutes of online searching I discovered it was a near-identical copy of a 2002 article by different authors in the Elsevier journal Engineering Structures. My lack of training in seismology was not an impediment to making this determination; the only major differences between the two articles were the titles and the authors of record. (The detailed tables, figures, photos, data visualizations, and paragraphs were identical but for minor elements.)

Continue reading A two-year drama: The anatomy of a retraction request