Credit where credit is due

At its worst plagiarism is seen as theft of intellectual property. As a student I am conscious of citing references in my work. As a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) I subscribe to adhere to a code of conduct. The trouble is while the code advocates professionalism, honesty and integrity; it does not actually mention plagiarism. Crediting others for their ideas is implicit rather than explicit.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) takes a stronger stance providing advice and examples that fit or do not fit their code of ethics. In a separate article they talk about the ‘halting the rise of plagiarism’, certainly the number of undergraduates who consider that it’s not very serious to copy web content is going down(Donald McCabe, Rutgers University).

So as a Chartered body is our code of conduct good enough? We have a generation who view on line content differently to text books in the library, who consider ‘mashups’ of content gathered from different sources the norm. It’s not that originality is rare it’s more that new media has created an environment where using someone else’s good idea as your own is way too easy.

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13 Responses to Credit where credit is due

  1. black flatfoot says:

    Absolutely agree, plagiarism is unacceptable but new media does make it easier. However is another slant on this that the fear of plagiarism inhibits knowledge transfer and development ?

    • Anne says:

      It’s an interesting thought and one that I am not aware of research on – particularly from an individual perspective.

      I guess it boils down to what we feel comfortable to share freely either because we know it’s in the public domain and we are just signposting the way or that we are not overly concerned about taking credit for it. That said in encouraging engagement/knowledge sharing most individuals will be considering their own ‘self interest’ the ‘What’s in it for me?’ factor. So there is also an element of disinterest in addition to inhibition that affects decision making and subsequent knowledge sharing and development.

      Someone once said “its surprising what can be achieved when you don’t mind who takes the credit” I would cite them but forget who it was!

  2. 007scorpion says:

    plagiarism is unacceptable…and can be self regulated….whilst people could plagiarism from online sources these are easy for people to check, load snipets into google/yahoo or use etc. However, for those who do attend a good academic institute and as such would be accredited by the industry charter…’real’ work can be easily be vetted by experts in field. Institutes with wide/global recognition have approved university sites where students must obtain grades that are only higher than that of any possible copy/paste. Otherwise they are forfeit to undertake examination for membership…let alone further interview for chartership.

    I would say that chartership is enough for ‘recognised’ bodies…and those who worry should have the bar increased to examinations beyond a short piece of written material.

  3. Carol Fox says:

    I think codes of conduct should be explicit and clear guidelines are essential to avoid plagiarism!

  4. black flatfoot says:

    In my organisation I have seen normally sane and rational (well almost!) people literally come to blows over not providing acknowledgments and passing of work as their own. This is an emotive issue and needs delicate handling. So greater clarity would certainly have helped in these instances

    • Anne says:

      It’s not something I can honestly say I have had experience of handling. I guess the greater the physical or mental contribution someone has made particularly in a work (as opposed to voluntary) situation the greater the expectation of reward and/or recognition. If the work is at a pre-publication or pre-patent stage then that would seem more straightforward to remedy. Post that point and particularly in an internal or single organisation I can see how the situation would create tension and an unwillingness to collaborate.

      It would seem that whatever industry you are in there is an expectation to behave in a professional manner but the stumbling point is how we deal with ‘non-professional’ behaviour. Is it something taken up by Line Managers, HR, or Chartered bodies/Institutes? I wonder if other than talking to individuals are there generic steps that have been put in place to try to avoid future conflict? If you are able to share any information without breaching confidentiality I would be interested to hear about it.

      • black flatfoot says:

        A frequent issue in my organisation is who should the authorship on reports be. It was dealt with in my organisation by changing internal report sign off, from author(s) to the individual that prepared the report. It hasn’t helped the problem at all, but only made it worse. Another example is patents, where joint IP ownership often occurs, but the instigator of the write up often takes credit. This latter example is a little different to the first, as there are direct payments to inventors, and the more inventors the less the individual payouts-Management’s answer was to restrict the number of patent authors. Conflict in neither case has been averted by the actions taken-I don’t think they understand the intrinsically demotivating nature of the problem.

      • Anne Dyke says:

        There is probably no infallible method here but definitely a need to develop best practice whether public, private or not for profit sectors. In an educational environment a combination of software and diligent examiners go a long way but are by no means perfect.
        In thinking about this I thought about an analogy with marriage bans (I don’t know why!) In this country we have a system where when a couple choose to get married either in a christian or civil ceremony a public notice of there intentions is required to be displayed so that others may have the opportunity to raise any lawful impediments. Might a solution be to adopt a similar type of system within an organisation where particularly in the case of patents a document could be made available in a shared area for a fixed period of time for people who have been involved in a process to leave a comment?

  5. Melanie says:

    Cheers Anne, fun video! Someone in my college at university got expelled for plagiarism, so it is certainly something I took notice of. Clear guidelines are essential; universal guidelines would be best!


    • Hamish says:

      Och, thats a wee shame lass. I hope it wasnt you that was expelled. You know in my college in Tillicoutry we were almost expected to copy, as a matter of course. Aye, I hope you get a nice college after your expulsion, and one thats no so full of stuffed shirts, no harm in a wee bit of cheating here and there.

  6. Chris says:

    I’m all for referencing, its an essential part of the smooth running and politics of good science, but I believe that in a few cases it can be unnecessarily cumbersome. For example I believe that, in most cases, an individual can not fully understand a behaviour or rule in science, unless he or she can understand its derivation from fundamental principles (or relationships which are intuitive to us all). As such, when writing reports attempting to explain complex ideas, I always like to provide a derivation (usually in an appendix) of the equations I use to justify my observations and results. At the start of these derivations will usually be the most fundamental and intuitive of equations like F=ma or modulus = stress / strain. In these cases should I be referencing Newton or Young? I’m not sure. Are they the property of these gentlemen or of the scientific community as a whole? Do we need to further recognise these men when they are already almost universally known?

    Should I reference Wikipedia because I had to go there to check whether or not it was actually Thomas Young, or as it turns out Leonhard Euler, who originally formulated the equation describing what is now know as Young’s Modulus?

    But on a more serious note, what about the derivation itself? I may have completed what I consider to be a resonantly complicated and unique derivation of physical behaviour from fundamental principles, but doubtless someone, somewhere has beaten me to the punch. Should I scour the scientific journals for hints of a similar derivation to reference? Surely I would have done so already if I though it would not be quicker (or more productive in terms of understanding) to derive it myself.

    In our business we must balance science and politics with economics and in this example, in my industry, sense would dictate that I did not waste my time looking for reference.

    I would be very interested to hear the views of one Mister Black Padfoot on this intricacies of this particular topic

  7. black flatfoot says:

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for the excellent question posed. I agree it is somewhat ludicrous to reference in the manner you outline-but here is the rub-not always. The answer is contextually based and steeped in a balance of some of the issues you mention, namely politics, economics and science along with a host of others, such as socio-emotive and cognitive issues. As the expert (in my living room only) on plagiarism management, imho, one approach is to use risk management techniques to make a judgement of how far to engage with appropriate referencing. Depending on the nature of your business this could range from from one extreme to another. I have seen litigation in both academic and commercial businesses resulting from lack of acknowledgements, ranging in withdrawal of research papers to multimillion pound lawsuits. This of course can be used for business leverage, for example many businesses file patents purely for defensive purposes, to prevent use of IP. Presumably your business (or yourself) make a judgement based on the perceived needs of your business on what and how you operate and the risks involved. You mention that “sense would dictate” your actions. This suggests that you have undertaken an intuitive appraisal of the risks for your particular situation. When I do this I usually get it wrong as everyones perceptions of sense seems to be very different from mine. I manage to get away with it internally to the business mostly, but competitors may see life very differently to me. To refocus on the comms aspects, this particular discussion just highlights the centrality of comms in organisations, and how it may affect decisions, and the consequences of getting the comms strategy wrong. No doubt some know-all MBA grad can explain this using some dodgy 4-box theory or other, but frankly anything those guys come out with needs to be taken with more than a pinch of salt (oops, I mean according to H.Mintzberg, Managers not MBA’s, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2005, Vol 4, No2).

    Paddy Flathand

  8. Anne says:

    The mystery of blogging is that you never know what topic is going to stir folks but plagiarism is one of those that everybody has an opinion on one way or another.

    Thanks all for your insights.

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