Archive for January 16th, 2013

The discussions on what constitutes plagiarism continue. One side, which I belong to, believes simply that the rules we establish for our students are the same rules we should be using in our professional life. In the specific context of the publications that claim evidence for ligands self-organising into stripes on the surface of nanoparticles, I have posted on this issue previously, due to the re-use of unattributed data in five of the papers from the Stellacci lab (here).
I used the University of Liverpool rules on plagiarism and collusion as the basis of my argument, and then made the broad claim that the same rules apply across all universities. Since the papers in which data are re-used were published whilst the group were at MIT, it is of interest to look specifically at the rules at that Institution. These are described in an excellent document entitled “Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students“. To quote from page 6 of this document “If you use charts, graphs, data sets, or numerical information obtained from another person or from published material, you must also cite the source.”. Of course, if one is publishing, then there is also the legal issue of copyright and formal agreement has to be obtained from the publisher for the reproduction of the original data.
This seems pretty clear cut to me and it will be of interest to see what will be the response from the relevant institutions considering this matter. It is perhaps naive, but it would seem reasonable to expect that if there is no response, then a student violating these rules could simply hire a lawyer and get their full marks. This would be a bad day for higher education.
Update 3 November 2013 the re-used figures have been the subject of corrections, see here and here.

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