In a post months and months ago, I wrote the following*:
I’ve heard vague claims that there are some cultures in which “plagiarism” as defined by U.S. standards is not viewed as an ethical breach at all, and that this may explain some instances of plagiarism among scientists and science students working in the U.S. after receiving their foundational educational experiences in such cultures. To my readers oversees: Is there any truth to these claims? (I’m suspicious, at least in part because of an incident I know of at my school where a student from country X, caught plagiarising, asserted, “But, in country X, where I’m from, this is how everyone does it. Sorry, I didn’t know the norms were different here.” Unfortunately for this student, the Dean was also from country X and was able to say, with authority, “‘Fraid not.”)
Since then, I’ve found some slightly-less-vague claims from the pages of Chemical & Engineering News. However, these are still almost second-hand, “word on the street” kind of claims that some cultures involved in the practice of science think plagiarism is just fine. Have a look at the relevant passage:
Many of the journal editors C&EN spoke with for this article singled out authors from some Asian countries as a source of concern when it comes to serious ethical violations concerning plagiarism, multiple submissions, and coauthorship. All acknowledge that scientific traditions in those places and differing ideas about the seriousness of such offenses as plagiarism play a role.
“There are cultural differences in the international community,” says C. Dale Poulter, chemistry professor at the University of Utah and editor of the Journal of Organic Chemistry (JOC).
When it comes to copying boilerplate-type text for an article, “for many Chinese authors, it’s nonoffensive,” says Richard Eisenberg, editor-in-chief of Inorganic Chemistry and professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester.
To help Asian authors, Tamara Nameroff, ACS director of international activities, says ACS is working with chemically related organizations in China to hold two half-day workshops this year on the scientific-publishing process. “It’s a step in helping Chinese researchers build appreciation of what it takes to publish in a high-quality journal,” Nameroff says. “By 2008 or so, China will be the number two producer of chemistry articles in the world. There’s a real opportunity here for mentoring, for building a capacity to self-monitor.”
What we have here are U.S. editors asserting that there seems to be a problem with submissions they get from authors in Asian countries containing plagiarism (although there’s no indication of the relative rates of plagiarism identified in papers from Asian authors versus those from U.S. authors, or authors from anywhere else), and that these higher rates of plagiarism can be attributed to “cultural differences” as to whether plagiarism is “offensive” or dishonest (rather than to something else).
This is where I’d really like some first-hand information from people who have grown up in these culture and/or have received scientific training in these cultures. What, specifically, are science students and scientists-in-training taught about “proper” use of the words, ideas, techniques, and results of others in a scientific paper? What are the models of the “right way of doing things” that are presented to students, and do these differ significantly on use of the words, ideas, techniques, and results of others from the standards U.S. journal editors are inclined to impose?
My concern, of course, is whether we’re looking at a situation like the one where the student from country X, upon getting caught plagiarising, tried to weasel out of responsibility by claiming that it was not an offense in the culture of country X — which turned out to be a lie! So before we get caught up in reconciling conflicting norms from various scientific communities around the globe, first it would be good to get some reliable information on what those norms actually are. Getting all that data from people you catch plagiarising might not be the most accurate approach.
But maybe there really is a cultural difference of opinion here. I’m hoping some of my readers from Asia can give me their insights on this.
Given the not-insignificant number of scientists in Asia who receive at least some of their scientific training in the U.S., is there any noticable effect on “scientific traditions” in places like China and India? Is the desire to be part of an international community of science making any difference in how non-U.S. scientist think about use of the words, ideas, techniques, and results of others in their own scientific work?
For the departments and lab groups in the U.S. with not-insignificant numbers of science students and scientists-in-training from Asia, is there more attention to or discussion of the use of the words, ideas, techniques, and results of others in one’s own work? In other words, is there any attempt to actually transmit the prevailing norms of science in the U.S., or is there an assumption that everyone doing science just knows what the rules are here?
There’s a parallel discussion we could have about how well departments and lab groups in the U.S. are transitting the prevailing norms of science to their students from the U.S., but we’ll save that for another day.
*Notice the care with which I strive here to avoid self-plagiarism.