[Viewpoint] Toward a definition of plagiarism

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[Viewpoint] Toward a definition of plagiarism

Professors should reflect on any wrongdoings because what they do is often under a harsh public microscope. In particular, whenever they are appointed to posts in public bodies, they fall under tight scrutiny.

Indeed, wrongdoing by academics reflects a decline of national power. If there’s a problem here, we should fix it and strive to establish academic morality as a cornerstone of development.

A key issue is the plagiarism of another person’s ideas, methods, or results and exaggerating one’s accomplishments in duplicate publications.

The recently-coined term “self-plagiarism” can be classified as one of the types of duplicate publication. Such controversies may result in complex and subtle problems requiring a case-by-case examination.

As plagiarism is deeply intertwined with professional opinions, commonsense judgements and public sentiment, we should spare no effort in establishing reasonable criteria for its definition.

Whether to publish academic work highly depends on the writer’s individual or creative ideas, the possibility of verification, and the degree of contribution to the development of the relevant academic field.

The writer should also be a person who has contributed elements necessary for preparing such papers.

In the engineering field, a person who has provided an idea or equipment and materials can become a writer. Therefore, ethical standards have been devised to recognize these accomplishments as their own.

If someone steals another person’s idea, he is subject to severe punishment and may be deprived of his qualifications as a professor.

Duplicate publication of identical articles has become the object of harsh criticism. In some cases, a person’s lone accomplishment has been publicly recognized through several publications.

The practice is basically banned by Seoul National University. But there are certain important exceptions that can be recognized.

Because of our insular academic community, Korean-written papers cannot be read in overseas countries. In particular, as the level of our research grows in areas requiring international communication, it is likely that Korean-written academic journals will lose their power.

This is because scholars prepare their papers in English due to their scholastic desire to present their findings and ideas more widely.

But we must not think lightly of Korean academic journals, in consideration of the need to boost the prestige of national academic circles.

In this vein, scholars are allowed to prepare two respective papers with the same details, both in Korean and in English.

Seoul National University, however, asks that the Korean-written papers be acknowledged in the list of references when the paper appears in English.

Strictly speaking, the mention of the existence of the paper written in Korean in the paper in the English publication should not be regarded as duplicate publication.

Ahead of personnel hearings for Chung Un-chan, President Lee Myung-bak’s designate for prime minister, the current controversy surrounding the duplicate publication of his papers must be judged by such criteria.

His respective publication of the identical articles in English and in Korean should not be regarded as duplicate publication of the same work.

That being said, it is regretful that he failed to describe the existence of the Korean paper.

In the case of foreign academic journals, if the already-published paper in other languages is republished in English, it is in some cases not recognized as an original paper. Such practice, however, is not an absolute, and rather the customary practice of the relevant country and academic community.

The essence of the problem lies in determining when a scholastic desire to have a public recognition and publicize one’s ideas becomes a questionable act.

It can certainly be recommended that one point out the details of the paper when it has appeared in various forms.

But it is not right to neglect to delineate the connection between the papers and to exaggerate a paper as an independent accomplishment.

Be that as it may, the current controversy results from a higher emphasis on how many papers individuals are seeing published.

The ‘outcome-first’ strategy drives scholars to publish papers with the same work in academic journals in different languages.

Although it is published in one language, an importance is attached to its qualitative evaluation.

Therefore, we expect that a considerable part of the controversy surrounding plagiarism or duplicate publications can be resolved.


*The writer is the Chairman of the Korea Research Council of Fundamental Science and Technology.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Min Dong-pil
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