Friday, April 15, 2011

Why mention countries or regions when that serves no purpose

I got an interesting letter the other day, from academics in Turkey. For reasons that will become apparent sooner rather than later, I will likely be criticized for mentioning the country where the plagiarism occurred. The letter writers essentially are annoyed that in reports about plagiarism country affiliations of researchers feature prominently. So, the headline could say 'Harvard Hoititoiti Lab Researchers Caught Plagiarizing', but instead it says that ' US Americans Caught Plagiarizing'. The authors of said letter criticize that Western media and Western academics (the target of their scorn is an article in Nature) go out of their way to point fingers at countries rather than individual academics, just as if individual academics in a particular country plagiarizing something implicate many or most other academic researchers in the same country with wrongdoing. In this particular instance, under a big heading mentioning Turkey, in a kind of block in the centre of the Nature article, an Italy based academic is mentioned as saying that in certain cultures plagiarism is not considered deplorable. Anyone merely browsing the pages of Nature could be forgiven for taking home the message that plagiarism is not considered deplorable in Turkey, when really in this particular instance Turkish universities withdrew papers they considered plagiarized. That does not exactly suggest that they considered plagiarism anything but deplorable. So, what purpose did it serve for Nature to mention that the transgressions occurred in Turkey, and for designing the article in such a way as to suggest to the superficial reader that plagiarism in Turkey is not considered deplorable, when the opposite is actually true.

Interesting point that is being made by these academics. This nearly falls into the same category as racist talk (aka Black people are this, White people are that), but not quite so, given that it is superficially linked to a particular case at least. Still, it makes me wonder whether we should take country mentions out of paper headings unless they are relevant to the case. That's not to say that we mustn't add this kind of information within articles or in reference sections.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting question, here's my spontaneous reaction: The citizenship or cultural legacy of people is absolutely irrelevant and have no place in reports of plagiarism or other sorts of research fraud. However, I do think that the academic affiliation of those caught should be mentioned, and that in bold letters. Why? Because that will motivate institutions to be more vigilant and apply stricter control regimens. Unfortunately, this will mean that the nationality of the institution is mentioned, but that's worth it.

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