Plagiarism Policies

In November of last year, Daily Nous hosted a guest post that exposed the extraordinary plagiarism of Iranian philosopher Mahmoud Khatami (follow-ups here and here). One of the articles alleged to be a work of plagiarism was a 2007 article of his in Topoi: An International Review of Philosophy, entitled “On the illuminationist approach to imaginal power: outline of a perspective.” It has now been shown that much of the article is lifted from Mikel Dufrenne’s 1973 book The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience.  Now, in an essay in Topoithe journal’s editor-in-chief, Fabio Paglieri, discusses the case, provides an account of what makes plagiarism objectionable, and lays out policies about plagiarism that he is instituting at Topoi and which he hopes other journals and publishers will adopt.

Professor Paglieri writes:

What is worst in plagiarism is not its utter lack of originality, nor the violation of the authors’ right to be properly acknowledged, although that’s bad enough; the worst is the breach in the mutual trust academics have (and should continue to have) in each other. All scholars want peer reviewing to be as rigorous as possible, but they also know very well, as reviewers of an increasing number of papers, that their resources are limited. Thus we want them to be free of focusing their attention on matters of content, not on policing sentence by sentence whether the author is plagiarizing someone else-—where ‘‘someone else’’ could be any published material in history, no less. Precisely because we want reviewers to be manically methodical and precise in assessing the merits of an article, we need them to be able to take some basic facts for granted: proper acknowledgment of quoted sources is one of these facts. This, of course, creates a vulnerability: trust is needed for the system to work, and plagiarists abuse this trust. Nor is this an isolated or unfamiliar instance. The collective construction of knowledge is a public good, and as any public good it is vulnerable to cheaters. Cheater-detection mechanisms are in place, but they are far from perfect, and necessarily so. So we must complement ex ante cheater-detection with ex post punishment of cheaters, once their misdeeds come to light. Punishment, in this context, should not be understood as a morally justified sanction against some original sin, but rather as a necessary incentive to ensure the smooth functioning of a system worth preserving.

He goes on to argue that the punishment must be public and non-proportional, so as to serve as an effect system-preserving deterrent. He suggests the following policies, which I have extracted and numbered for ease of discussion.

1. Submissions that contain plagiarism will be “rejected without further justification (if they are caught prior to publication) or promptly retracted (if the plagiarism is identified later on)”.
2. Authors found to have submitted plagiarized work in the past will have all of their subsequent submissions “rejected without review, regardless of whether they contain further plagiarism, and with no consideration for any other value they might have.”
3. Editors should “take steps to spread this ostracism as widely as possible,” urging other journals and publishers to adopt the same stance towards the future work of proven plagiarizers.
4. Journals and publishers should “never blame cases of undetected plagiarism on reviewers or editors of the articles in question.”
5. Journals and publishers should “not ask reviewers to become ‘plagiarism sleuths.'”
6. Instances of plagiarism should be “publicly denounced,”  and steps should be taken to “alert the whole academic community of the fraud.”
7. The accused should have access to “due process” and “be given ample opportunity to explain themselves and, whenever appropriate, to rectify any unintentional blunder.”

The entire essay, “Reflections on Plagiarism,” is here.

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