Plagiarism in Medical Research.. The “Plague” of the New Millennium

ByIsmail O. Abdelhafeez* and Amr E. Riad°
Urology Department Ain Shams University* and Urology Department Theodore Bilharz Institute°

Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the “wrongful appropriation”, “close imitation” or “purloining and publication” of another author's “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries. There is no rigorous and precise distinction between imitation, stylistic plagiarism, copy, replica and forgery. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement, while in the previous centuries authors and artists were encouraged to “copy the masters as closely as possible” and avoid “unnecessary invention”.

The 18th century, new morals have been institutionalized and enforced prominently in the sectors of academia and journalism, where plagiarism is now considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics, subject to sanctions like expulsion and other severe career damage. Not so in the arts, which not only have resisted in their long-established tradition of copying as a fundamental practice of the creative process, but with the boom of the modernist and postmodern movements in the 20th century, this practice has been heightened as the central and representative artistic device Plagiarism remains tolerated by 21st century artists.

Plagiarism is not a crime per se, but is disapproved more on the grounds of moral offence, and cases of plagiarism can involve liability for copyright infringement

Etymology and history

In the 1st century, the use of the Latin word plagiaries, literally kidnapper, to denote someone stealing someone else's work, was pioneered by Roman poet Martial, who complained that another poet had “kidnapped his verses”. This use of the word was introduced into English in 1601 by dramatist Ben Jonson, to describe as a plagiary someone guilt of literary theft.

The derived form plagiarism was introduced into English around 1620. The Latin plagiārius (kidnapper), and plagium (kidnapping), has the root plaga (snare/net), based on the Indo-European root: plak (to weave), seen for instance in Greek plekein, Bulgarian плета: pleta, Latin plectere, all meaning (to weave).

The modern concept of “plagiarism as immoral”, and “originality as an ideal”, emerged in Europe in the 18th century, with the Romantic Movement. For centuries before, not only literature was considered “publica materies”, a common property from which anybody could borrow at will, but the encouragement for authors and artists was actually to “copy the masters as closely as possible”, for which the closer the copy the finer was considered the work. This was the same in literature, music, painting and sculpture. In some cases, for a writer to invent their own plots was reproached as “presumptuous”. This stood at the time of Shakespeare too, when it was common to appreciate more the similarity with an admired classical work, and the ideal was to avoid “unnecessary invention”.

The modern ideals for originality and against plagiarism appeared in the 18th century, in the context of the economic and political history of the book trade, which will be exemplary and influential for the subsequent broader introduction of capitalism. Originality that traditionally had been deemed as impossible was turned into an obligation by the emerging ideology of individualism. In 1755 the word made it into Johnson's influential A Dictionary of the English Language, where he was cited in the entry for copier One that imitates; a plagiary; an imitator. “Without invention a painter is but a copier, and a poet is but a plagiary of others", and in its own entry, denoting both: “a thief in literature, one who steals the thoughts or writings of another", and “the crime of literary theft”.

Later in the 18th century, the Romantic Movement completed the transformation of the previous ideas about literature, developing the Romantic myth of artistic inspiration, which believes in the “individualized, inimitable act of literary creation", in the ideology of the “creation from nothingness” of a text which is an “autonomous object produced by an individual genius”.

Despite the 18th century new morals, and their current enforcement in the ethical codes of academia and journalism, the arts, by contrast, not only have resisted in their long-established tradition of copying as a fundamental practice of the creative process, but with the boom of the modernist and postmodern movements, this practice has been accelerated, spread, increased, dramatically amplified to an unprecedented degree, to the point that has been heightened as the central and representative artistic device of these movements. Plagiarism remains tolerated by 21st century artists.


Self-plagiarism also known as “recycling fraud” is the “reuse of significant, identical, or nearly identical portions of one's own work without acknowledging that one is doing so or without citing the original work”. Articles of this nature are often referred to as “duplicate or multiple publications”. In addition to the ethical issue, this can be illegal if copyright of the prior work has been transferred to another entity. Typically, self-plagiarism is only considered to be a serious ethical issue in settings where a publication is asserted to consist of new material, such as in academic publishing or educational assignments. It does not apply except in the legal sense, to public-interest texts, such as social, professional, and cultural opinions usually published in newspapers and magazines.

In academic fields, identifying self-plagiarism is often difficult because limited reuse of material is both, legally accepted as fair use and ethically accepted.

It is common for university researchers to rephrase and republish their own work, tailoring it for different academic journals and newspaper articles, to disseminate their work to the widest possible interested public. However, it must be born in mind that these researchers also obey limits: if half an article is the same as a previous one, it will usually be rejected. One of the functions of the process of peer review in academic writing is to prevent this type of recycling.

The concept of self-plagiarism

The concept of "self-plagiarism" has been challenged as self-contradictory or an oxymoron.

For example, Stephanie J. Bird argues that self-plagiarism is a misnomer, since by definition plagiarism concerns the use of others' material.

However, the phrase is used to refer to specific forms of potentially unethical publication. Bird identifies the ethical issues sometimes called “self-plagiarism" as those of “dual or redundant publication". She also notes that in an educational context, “self-plagiarism" may refer to the case of a student who resubmits “the same essay for credit in two different courses". David B. Resnik clarifies, “self-plagiarism involves dishonesty but not intellectual theft”.

According to Patrick M. Scanlon, “self-plagiarism" is a term with some specialized currency. Most prominently, it is used in discussions of research and publishing integrity in biomedicine, where heavy publish-or-perish demands have led to a rash of “duplicate” and “salami-slicing" publication, “the reporting of a single study's results in least publishable units within multiple articles” (Blancett, Flanagin, & Young, 1995; Jefferson, 1998; Kassirer & Angell, 1995; Lowe, 2003; McCarthy, 1993; Schein & Paladugu, 2001; Wheeler, 1989). Roig (2002) offers a useful classification system including “four types of self-plagiarism”: (1) duplicate publication of an article in more than one journal, (2) partitioning of one study into multiple publications, often called salami-slicing, (3) text recycling, and (4) copyright infringement.


1. Oxford English Dictionary, First Edition (1928-1989).

2. Clarke Roger (2006): Plagiarism by academics:”More complex than it seems”. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 7(1):91-121.ISN 1536-9323.

3. Hart, Fresher, Tim (2004): Plagiarism and poor academic practice; a threat to the extension of E-learning in higher education. Electronic Journal of E-learning.

4. Dellavalle, Robert P & Banks (2007): Frequently asked questions regarding self-plagiarism; how to avoid recycling Fraud. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 57(3) ( 527).

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