New Column in The Scientist

The Scientist LogoToday, I’m proud to announce, after what has been a very exciting wait, that an opinion piece I penned has been published in the magazine The Scientist and is now available online here.

The piece is entitled “Defending Against Plagiarism” and takes a look at how organizations from as large as the National Science Foundation to as small as upstart academic publishers are facing plagiarism scandals that could have been easily avoided if they had incorporated existing and readily-available detection technology in their workflow.

In short, in 2013 there’s almost no reason an editor should learn about clear plagiarism from someone they’ve published.

The article was written for iThenticate, a company I do consulting for and also write a regularl column for on their site, and they opted to submit it to The Scientist for inclusion there.

Many thanks go to them for their help not just for the submission, but for the feedback and help.

Over the nearly 8 years I’ve run Plagiarism Today, I’ve had a lot of good experiences with the press and press coverage. However, this is a particularly special moment for me not only because it’s my column, but because it’s a very well-known magazine in the scientific and academic community, one I’m proud to be a part of.

So again thanks to The Scientist for the inclusion and for everyone who helped make it happen. It’s an incredible honor.


Dear Mr. Bailey,

I read your article, "Defending against plagiarism" as well as the article before it, "Misconduct around the globe" with much interest. I can tell you that doing research in India and teaching research methodology to students are both very daunting tasks, made even harder by the fact that the real people who need the lessons in ethics are the established guys.

One can, of course, never stress the importance of never lifting others' words without giving appropriate credit to them and clarifying that those are their words. Indeed, a very senior scientist, former Director of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science and a leading member of the scientific advisory committee to the Prime Minister of India, Prof. C. N. R. Rao, has been caught for plagiarism which he and his lackeys have always conveniently blamed on the junior co-authors, saying they knew nothing of what was going on.

Of course, why he puts his name on papers when he knows nothing about what is going on is a matter of confusion for everybody but he is too powerful a man for other ordinary mortals to cross, what with his friends in all the funding and so-called regulatory agencies. Sometimes, as I read several papers on a topic and try to draft a summary as an introduction or to discuss a result, I find myself being extra-careful to make sure that my words are in no way reminiscent of anyone’s words.

But I also see how easy it is to express ideas in the most suitable words one can think of, and how, sometimes, those words can be someone else’s. But what concerns me about Indian science is actually the subject of the article preceding yours: “Misconduct around the globe.” Selective reporting is a minor sin compared to the fabrication, manipulation and outright lying that go on.

Changing standard error values to make error bars look smaller, doing one thing (by way of experimental protocol) and reporting something else, using just one data point and fabricating data for the other two (or more) replicates (which you can imagine will be a nightmare for someone trying to reproduce the data)—all these are rampant (mal)practices.

Taking students’ and junior colleagues’ data but omitting them from the authors’ list in spite of their intellectual contributions and insisting on being an author in spite of not having contributed intellectually or in any significant way (except for maybe giving some reagent or allowing people to use facilities or being a supervisor or the routine cursory glance at the final manuscript) are very common.

Well known institutes and universities encourage this behavior by offering awards and promotions and raises to those with the highest number of publications in indexed journals and funds from various funding agencies, which in India, is more a matter of connections than actual merit. And we are not talking about misconduct by only struggling young scientists, it’s also found among the more established and decorated scientists.

There is no office of research integrity and funding agencies don’t care what is done with their funds—sometimes, they themselves contribute directly to fraud by refusing to sanction strangers’ proposals and those same ideas are then written up with their more established friends’ names as the principal investigators and the funding agency officials can then take a cut out of the funds.

Win-win for everybody except for the poor fool who wrote the original proposal. So what I would like to say in closing is this: be very watchful about those who lift others’ words without giving credit, but also be very alert about fraud that masquerades as original research—it’s much more pernicious.


Jessica G
Jessica G

Congrats, Jonathan! It is very exciting. Excellent work.

Sara Hawkins
Sara Hawkins

Congratulations, Jonathan! Excellent article, which I hope raises a few heads to consider how to be more proactive in plagiarism detection. Academic and scientific integrity can't bear to turn a blind eye when the potential consequences may mean delays in life-saving cures or advances in any number of areas we need.

~ Sara