The ten consequences of plagiarism

The seriousness of plagiarism is not relative to its quantity, but to the extent of its consequences. Here, we present ten potential consequences of plagiarism.

(This text has been taken and adapted from the article Bergadaà, M., 2013, Ouverture, Culture & Sociétés, N° 28, 2013, pp. 18-22, and from Bergadaa, M., 2015, Appréhender la gravité du plagiat, in Le plagiat académique, comprendre pour agir, L’Harmattan, Questions contemporaines.)

1 – Plagiarism Affects Authors

Plagiarizing amounts to far more than simply stealing a piece of work: it is claiming to be the author of that work.  For the author, the feeling of having been symbolically eliminated can be devastating. And even if nobody disputes that an individual has created the work in question, it is natural for the plagiarized to feel violated. Theft of a work of the mind is unique in its kind: it is a serious breach of the rights of personality. We should recall that the rights of the personality cannot be transmitted, so their violation requires suitable compensation. So far, the law has not provided a suitable framework for this.

2 – Plagiarists Swindle… Readers

Plagiarism threatens the foundations of knowledge. Plagiarism destroys the links to past knowledge by refusing readers access to sources.

3 – Plagiarism Infringes Authors’ Future Rights

When original ideas are stolen from an author, not only is he robbed of the result of his/her research, but also, if he continues to publish on his research topic he will be obliged to systematically cite his plagiarist who after all, can claim prior publication. In fact, the plagiarized manuscript is part of a chronological sequence obliging any subsequent author on the subject to cite this same manuscript. When plagiarism concerns a work the victim has already published, the damage is limited because he can claim his rights. However, this is a different matter for young authors who have only presented preliminary results at a conference or whose co-authors are dishonest. In such cases, the victim often gives up on his subject (after studying for months or even years), thereby depriving science of his skills.

4 – Plagiarism Induces Pointless Research

Only rarely is plagiarism a copy paste of an entire work. Most plagiarists borrow patchily from previous publications. It is easy to see how these post-modern artists proceed, composing collages of works from different genres or perspectives pretending to give new meaning to a complex reality. Their disruption of citation conventions could even be understood as an extension of this “creativity”. But what is the point in making a patchwork of texts or ideas from different contexts and levels of analysis with incoherent epistemological perspectives?

5 – Plagiarism Defrauds the System 

Nobody has more than twenty-four hours in a day. If you know how long it takes to produce a decent piece of research, the number of publications in certain researchers’ CVs is truly miraculous! Plagiarism makes it easy to lengthen the list of publications on a CV and when promotion or recruitment commissions seek quantity, they offer plagiarist positions they should never have obtained. Plagiarism thus results in favoring the cheat to the detriment of the honest author. We should mention that self-plagiarism – using the same article to increase the number of publications on a CV – is also fraud.

6 – Plagiarism Also Encourages Sloppy Research

Plagiarism gradually saps authors’ confidence, as what starts as a “one-off” may grow into an offense the plagiarist can no longer do without. From plagiarizing here and there, the lapses become more and more frequent until this laziness becomes a habit that ignores any moral distinction. Some plagiarists  know that what they are doing is not right; however they gradually bend the rules and carelessness – or even addiction – sets in. In the gray area of sloppy research, the frontier between real science and fake knowledge becomes blurred. What was initially probably no more than a one-off, gradually morphs into dishonest behavior, and dishonest behavior results in sloppy research. A researcher who does not hesitate to lift others’ ideas or cheat in publications is likely to take the same approach when it comes to “inventing” empirical evidence.

7 – Plagiarism Obstructs the Work of Scientific Journals

A persistent myth is that scientific journals remain the guardians of academic knowledge. Rowland[1] identifies four basic functions of scientific journals on which there is a broad consensus in the scientific milieu[2]: diffusing knowledge, archiving canons of knowledge, quality control of publications and attributing authors’ reputation and rankings. These journals are essential to academia whose social world classifies researchers into those who are (or are not) suitable to be hired by an institution, or become directors of laboratories or research centers, for example.

[1] Rowland F., 2002, The Peer-Review Process, Learned Publishing, 15, 4, pp.   247-258.
[2] Journals with a Peer Review Process.

8 – Plagiarism Brings Out the Worst in People

Plagiarism discredits the whole profession, so plagiarism scandals also affect those who are not guilty, encouraging rumors about their integrity. In this way, people who have published a few poorly constructed sentences find themselves suspected of plagiarism. This is even more upsetting for those holding high academic, political or religious positions. Such rumors may be spread by interests that have nothing to do with academia. These “plagiarism hunters” fan the flames of the gutter press and spread the word about cases which have never been properly examined. However, nobody has the right to be a self-appointed prosecutor rumor over social networks or blogs.

9 – Plagiarism Harms Educational Establishments

In an Institute survey, 37% of respondents declared the main victim of researchers’ plagiarism to be the academic system and its reputation. According to these respondents, the system’s credibility and public image are damaged because when the media exposes plagiarism, it harms all academic stakeholders. Today, social media often acts more quickly than official inquiry boards even when these do try to deal with cases that come up.

10 – Fighting Plagiarism is Expensive

Any university that chooses to fight plagiarism must first set up an investigation commission; the investigations will likely be long and costly. Today, nobody knows the true cost of such investigations that include lawyers’ and other investigators’ fees, time lost by all involved,  reputation costs, etc. Furthermore, when plagiarism is discovered in research laboratories or other university departments, more time must be spent checking that it has not spread throughout the establishment. For example, in a case of scientific fraud in Luxemburg, specialists from each discipline checked the practices of all the suspected plagiarist’s collaborators.