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Plagiarism in research: a survey of African medical journals
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  • Published on:
    Authors’ response to Flanagin and Ofori-Adjei
    • Anke Rohwer, Senior Researcher Centre for Evidence-based Health Care, Division Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Stellenbosch University
    • Other Contributors:
      • Elizabeth Wager, Publications Consultant
      • Taryn Young, Professor
      • Paul Garner, Professor

    In our article reporting a survey of 495 articles, (1) we state “313 (63%; 95%CI 58 to 68) had evidence of plagiarism: 17% (83) had at least four linked copied or more than six individual copied sentences; 19% (96) had three to six copied sentences; and the remainder had one or two copied sentences.”

    Flanagin and Ofori-Adjei (2) dispute these findings, stating that “63% of African medical journals are plagiarized to some degree is a gross overestimate.” They provide no data to support their statement, but challenge the definitions of plagiarism we use, stating that the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) define plagiarism as “unattributed use of large portions of text and/or data.” They argue that “identical wording with formal source citations” does not constitute plagiarism.

    Flanagin and Ofori-Adjei have cited the correct sources for defining plagiarism, but they need to consider more carefully what an editor should expect of authors in terms of proper attribution. Plagiarism is copying of text without giving appropriate credit - which, if it is taken verbatim, “must be enclosed in quotation marks and be accompanied by a citation to indicate its origin.”(3) This is clearly stated in the COPE resources (4, 5) and those of the US Office for Research Integrity (ORI) (3, 6), cited by Flanagin and Ofori-Adjei, and detailed below.

    For COPE, their website defines plagiarism as follows: “When someone takes the work of others (data, words or theories) a...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    Elizabeth Wager is an author on the position statement "Responsible research publication: international standards for authors."
  • Published on:
    Biased Study and Misrepresentation of Actual Rates of Plagiarism in African Medical Journals
    • Annette Flanagin, Executive Managing Editor and VP Editorial Operations JAMA and JAMA Network
    • Other Contributors:
      • David Ofori-Adjei, Editor in Chief, Ghana Medical Journal, Editor in Chief

    We write to express our concern about the prevalence estimate of plagiarism in African medical journals in the study reported by Rohwer et al.(1) The authors’ finding that 63% of African medical journal articles are plagiarized to some degree is a gross overestimate.

    The study definitions of “some,” “moderate,” and “extensive” plagiarism are unvalidated and, as the authors admit in the fourth paragraph of their Discussion section, lack inter-rater reliability and precision. Articles were classified as having “some” plagiarism if there were as few as 1-2 sentences that included identical words or sentences in another article by different authors even if the sentences were properly referenced. Numerous publishing organizations, including the Council of Science Editors,(2) the World Association of Medical Editors,(3) and the US Office of Research Integrity,(4) reserve the use of plagiarism for instances when another’s words are used without proper credit or attribution. The authors developed their definition based on suggestions from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), yet even COPE’s Flowchart for managing suspected plagiarism in a submitted manuscript defines plagiarism as “unattributed use of large portions of text and/or data.”(5)

    In fairness to the African journals implicated in the study, we request the authors go back to their data, identify all instances in which identical wording with formal source citations were defined as plagiarism, recalcu...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    We serve as unpaid co-directors for the African Journal Partnership Program.