Plagiarism was discussed in a research integrity seminar | University of Tartu Centre of Ethics

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Plagiarism was discussed in a research integrity seminar

In 2017, the Centre for Ethics, University of Tartu led the process to form the Estonian Code of Conduct for Research Integrity which was also signed by the University of Tartu among other research institutions in Estonia. Questions regarding to following the Code of Conduct for Research Integrity have become burning topic in the society in relation to latest plagiarism-reveals by Estonian media. It is discussed, how to recognize plagiarism – or even more importantly – how to avoid it. Whose responsibility is it to prevent plagiarism – students, supervisors, reviewers or universities? The Centre for Ethics, University of Tartu held a research integrity seminar “What to do with plagiarism? Misconduct in academic world.”

Presentations were given by Prof. Margit Sutrop (the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the head of the Centre for Ethics), Diana Lõvi (the instructional designer of the Faculty of Social Sciences), and Dr. Tiina Ann Kirss (senior research fellow in Estonian History of Thought, the author of soon-to-be-published textbook about academic writing). The presentations were followed by a discussion about various cases of scientific misconduct, where the answer to the question, how should the university react to such cases, was sought. The cases were commented by University of Tartu lawyer Aliis Liin and University of Tartu Academic Secretary Dr. Andres Soosaar. The discussions held at the seminar gave input to create procedures for possible cases of misconduct in the University of Tartu.

Prof Margit Sutrop pointed out, merely preventing misconduct does not automatically mean research integrity. For research integrity, awareness of professional values and following them in actions is also important. The Estonian Code of Conduct for Research Integrity highlights different values (freedom, responsibility, honesty and objectivity, respect and caring, justice, openness and cooperation) and principles of action that address all stages of research (planning of research; conduct of research; authorship, publishing and application of research results; researcher in the research community; observance, promotion and application of research integrity).

Scientific misconduct happens when research integrity core principles are breached. FFP (fabrication, falsification and plagiarism) lies in the centre of scientific misconduct. Breaches of research integrity might also happen in treating persons involved in research, reviewing process, using resources, in relationships of the science community or other aspects of scientific research. The organisational culture must support research integrity. Focusing merely on exposing breaches and punishing responsible scientists is rather counteractive. Instead, more attention should go to prevention and thinking, what kind of behaviour is expected from scientists, as well as authors, supervisors and reviewers.

Diana Lõvi introduced URKUND, the automatic text-recognition system made for detecting, preventing and handling plagiarism. She talked about what URKUND can and cannot help to discover. The system compares the uploaded texts with other materials available online and in databases (see https://www.urkund.com/about-urkund/source-areas/). Every uploaded text is added to URKUND’s database, so the uploader must be sure they have the right to add the text into the system.

URKUND compares texts with other texts in the same language. The system is not able to translate (e.g. compare Estonian to English or vice versa). It does not scan media files, pictures, graphs and materials that are not published online. Content uploaded to URKUND is not visible to search engines. URKUND can be used in the University of Tartu by students and staff in co-operation with teaching staff and supervisors.

URKUND does not make decisions about whether something is plagiarism or not. The percentage given by the system does not determine that the texts is plagiarism – that decision is made by people. URKUND points out parts of the text that coincide with something, but that can also happen with standard texts (e.g. user licences) or when a previous draft of the current text has been uploaded to URKUND. Attention must be paid to how to communicate URKUND results to students. Some teaching staff in the Faculty of Social Sciences have told their students, that they will be contacted about URKUND results only when there really is a substantial reason for it.

Prof. Tiina Ann Kirss talked about the roots of plagiarism in present day Academia. The explanations (not justifications!) are hurrying, superficiality, disunity, the success culture, production mentality, unhealthy competition and “food-chain”, superficial supervision (the supervisor does not pay attention to what the student wrote) and “publish or die” principles.

According to Prof. Kirss, a separate danger zone is semiplagiarism, caused by compilation and copy-pasting, inadequate referencing and poor academic writing skills. Semiplagiarism is a text (essay, report, seminar work, dissertation), a half-finished product that consists of larger and smaller pieces gathered from the internet, frequently without correct references.

Writing skills that help to avoid (semi)plagiarism are taking notes efficiently, summarising and paraphrasing: we can use our own wording when writing down ideas from the source and that keeps us from sliding into plagiarism.

Referencing skills also need specific attention. Citation is needed every time someone else’s materials are used. There are many different reference styles and only one should be used within one text. Using “other people’s ideas” with your own, they should be clearly marked. Secondary sources or cluster citations should be used with precaution and only when reasonably needed.

 

See also: https://www.eetika.ee/en/ethics-estonia/estonian-code-conduct-research-integrity

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