NAS on Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty

National Association of Scholars

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) regards plagiarism as a severe form of academic dishonesty. Until the events of the last month, declaring that position would have seemed entirely unnecessary. Every college and university in the United States, to our knowledge, forbids plagiarism by students and faculty members. But we live in a time where definitions are often spongy and clever people go to considerable lengths to excuse the inexcusable. In that light, NAS wishes to clarify its position on plagiarism and some related forms of academic dishonesty.

  1. The most common form of plagiarism is to appropriate someone else’s writing and make it appear to be the plagiarist’s own work.
  2. Plagiarism is an offense on at least five levels:
  • It is an offense against the individual whose work has been stolen.
  • It is an offense against the reader who the plagiarist intends to deceive.
  • It is an offense against the academic community, which is built on the accurate presentation of research, the integrity of the published results, and the collegiality of freely and publicly acknowledged joint inquiry to discover truth and extend knowledge.
  • It is an offense against the plagiarist’s profession and institution, which extend the privileges of membership and employment only to individuals who meet the academic community’s standards.
  • It is an offense against the broader public that relies on the authority of university credentials and of scholarly and scientific publications.
  1. The severity of sanctions against plagiarism varies from college to college, journal to journal, publisher to publisher. The NAS does not endorse a one-size-fits-all set of sanctions, but supports the principles that sanctions should be significant; sanctions should be proportional to the harm they cause and to the gain that the plagiarist sought to attain; sanctions should be intensified in light of the frequency of the offense; and sanctions should deter members of the academic community from committing plagiarism.
  2. Sometimes the plagiarist will make minor changes in the appropriated sentences, such as substituting a synonym for one or more of the words in the original text. Other such changes might include altering the order of clauses within a sentence; changing punctuation; changing the order of paragraphs; changing titles or subtitles; eliminating footnotes or other references; altering the spelling of names; or changing verb tenses. A determined plagiarist can make enough alterations in a text to make detection of the plagiarism in a particular case difficult. But because plagiarists typically do not limit themselves to a single act of theft, plagiarism can usually be detected despite the plagiarist’s efforts to disguise the theft.
  3. While plagiarism is most commonly an act by an individual plagiarist, sometimes the plagiarist has accomplices before the fact, after the fact, or both. A before-the-fact accomplice, for example, might assist in finding the material, drafting the text that the plagiarist presents as his own, or recognizing the plagiarism in a draft and failing to take steps to prevent its publication. An after-the-fact accomplice, for example, might be someone who was plagiarized but, on discovery of the plagiarism, falsely declares that it was done with his permission, or that he now authorizes it. Those who attempt to extenuate an act of plagiarism by amending the written record to make the plagiarism disappear are also accomplices after-the-fact.
  4. Plagiarism in a doctoral dissertation (or equivalents such as a series of published articles) is among the most egregious forms of false appropriation. That is because a doctoral dissertation is a scholar’s primary credential and is meant to stand as proof of significant original research and the scholar’s capacity to present that research in lucid writing that conforms to the citation protocols of his field. Plagiarism in a doctoral dissertation invalidates the scholar’s credentials, regardless of whether the institution that granted the doctoral degree formally rescinds it.
  5. Plagiarism is one offense on a spectrum of other forms of academic dishonesty. Some other offenses:
  • Citing sources that the author has not read or consulted.
  • Signing a published article as a co-author while having little or nothing to do with the research or the writing.
  • Claiming primary authorship of a collaborative work that was primarily the work of someone else.
  • Publishing an original article that presents someone else’s original research as one’s own.
  • Self-plagiarism, which falsely multiplies claims to the quantity of original research, and which can take credit from co-authors on an original piece or research who are not cited in the self-plagiarized follow-up.
  • Manipulating tests of “statistical significance” (“p-hacking”) to make insignificant statistical correlations appear important.
  • Inventing hypotheses that match statistical results already in hand (Hypothesizing After Results are Known, or HARKing) without checking by means of new experiments.
  • Damaging or interfering with another researcher’s materials, apparatus, or results.
  • Pressuring a publisher to reject work that criticizes one’s own research or theoretical commitments.
  • Using scholarly associations, private or public funding mechanisms, government procedures, or legal procedures as an instrument to suppress dissenting views.
  • Rejecting candidates for undergraduate admissions, graduate admissions, or faculty appointments on the basis of race, religion, sex, or political views.

Plagiarism occurs in contexts other than the academy, but it is especially damaging to the community of scholars and students. Term paper mills, ghost writers, and copy-and-paste hackery are nothing new in the academic world. The advent of Chat-GPT and other forms of artificial intelligence may aggravate the difficulty of teaching students how to be original writers and how to engage properly the world of previously published views. But the central value of precise, careful, and honest dialogue with other writers has not changed. Citing those writers, whether to agree or to dissent, is an essential part of critical thinking and it is one major step in winning genuine intellectual authority.

The National Association of Scholars strongly upholds the long-standing principle that scholastic exercises (e.g. term papers), journal articles, and scholarly books should be entirely free of plagiarism. The responsibility to uphold that principle falls first and foremost on the individual scholar, but it also falls on admissions personnel, undergraduate and graduate teachers, members of doctoral examining committees, professional organizations, peer reviewers, publishers, and search committees.

All of these bodies could put teeth into the prohibition against plagiarism by requiring that all published scholarly materials, including dissertations, articles, and books, be submitted in digitized form to archives that make possible easy audits for plagiarism. Academic journal publishers should be required to loosen copyrights sufficiently to allow for these audits. Software using artificially intelligent writing detection capabilities should be standardly applied to all scholarly work before acceptance. The academic community now possesses the technological and fiscal capacity to enforce the professional injunction against plagiarism, which all too often has been a hollow piety.

When evidence of plagiarism emerges, the first recourse is to address the disciplinary body at the institution where the alleged plagiarist is employed, and then the disciplinary body of the alleged plagiarist’s profession. Yet the general public and policymakers also possess the right and the duty to expose and publicize plagiarism and other kinds of academic malfeasance. The academic community frequently has failed to engage in the professional self-regulation needed to prevent plagiarism. Plagiarists should not be allowed to profit from their colleagues’ complaisance. The general public and policymakers are not academic professionals, but they can tell a scoundrelly scholar from a saintly one. If academic professionals will not keep themselves honest, then the public and policymakers must.

The National Association of Scholars has from time to time been asked to examine cases of alleged plagiarism, and we have done so. We do not have the time or resources to be a general clearinghouse for plagiarism accusations, but we will continue to publicize cases of plagiarism that exemplify the larger institutional and ideological defects of academia, and where we believe that our participation will significantly forward the scholarly and civic imperative to remove the practice of plagiarism from higher education. The work to expose plagiarism, just as the work to inquire into truth and extend knowledge, must be a joint effort by every scholar and citizen who cares about academic integrity.

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