Two weeks ago, it turned out that big parts of his thesis were copied from other people's academic papers or newspaper articles. Since last week, one finds online a Wiki called GuttenPlag dedicated to collecting the copied paragraphs. The status is summarized in the below graphic (taken from mentioned Wiki):
Marked in black are pages on which plagiarized paragraphs have been found. Red are pages on which copies from several sources have been found. White means nothing has been found and blue is the table of contents and reference list that is not included in the search.
This eerily reminds me of a dissertation thesis I read last year. While the presented research was original, big parts of the text introducing the topic and explaining the relevance of the study were exact copies from other people's published review articles or research papers, including footnotes and references. The original work was cited in the text, but nowhere was it clearly marked the text was essentially an unauthorized reprint. Confronted with the evidence for his generous copying, the student first pointed out that he had cited the original papers. Yet, for a proper citation half of the thesis would have had to appear in quotation marks. Commenting on zu Guttenberg's "work," Volker Rieble, an expert on plagiarism summarized the core problem (as quoted in this Zeit article):
"Der Leser wird darüber getäuscht, dass ein bestimmter Absatz, ein bestimmtes Textstück, ein bestimmter Gedanke nicht vom Doktoranden zu Guttenberg, sondern von einem anderen stammt. Und das ist mit wissenschaftlichen Standards schlechterdings nicht vereinbar."
"The reader is deceived in knowing that a particular paragraph, a particular part of the text, a particular thought, did not come from doctoral candidate zu Guttenberg but from somebody else. This is not in accordance with scientific standards."
So you're not done with putting a citation somewhere, you have to make clear to the reader what is the extend of your borrowing. On further inquiry, the candidate whose thesis I had read - not a native English speaker - said with heartwarming honesty he had started writing the text but then found the other authors had said it so much better and clearer that the reader would benefit from using their words. The thesis was withdrawn and replaced prior to the defense. The candidate passed - as I said, his research was fine. Zu Guttenberg, whose copying work was only noticed after his defense, now has to await the University of Bayreuth's decision on whether he will be allowed to keep his title.
I know several examples where physicists, including myself on more than one occasion, have found paragraphs from their papers reappear in other people's papers. While the source was quoted somewhere in the text, the copied paragraphs were not marked as quotation. In all cases I know of, the people copying others' texts were not native English speakers.
Not a native English speaker myself, coming up with a well written motivation for a paper is a problem I can relate to. Otoh, at least I have an excuse for being grammatically challenged ;-) One should also note that some journals do offer editorial help with grammar and spelling. (Better read your proofs very, very carefully.) In any case, I'm bringing this up because already in a post some months ago, where I remarked upon the unreferenced spread of some of my pictures into other people's slide presentations, I was wondering if the possibility of copy-and-pasting is too much a temptation to resist or whether people just think nothing about it. The Times Higher Education for example recently reported that Chinese students admit to little or no idea about ethics:
"Research carried out by academics at Beihang University in Beijing found a startling lack of understanding of plagiarism and academic misconduct, with both students and staff admitting that they knew "very little" or "had no idea" about the norms of scientific ethics. [U]p to 10 per cent of the students surveyed said that they thought copying work directly from the internet should not be considered bad practice."
Even more depressingly, an increasing amount of college applicants seems to be lifting their "personal statements":
"[M]any applicants borrowed phrases from the same free website... In 234 applications to study medicine [from 50,000 applications to study medicine, dentistry and veterinary science at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge], candidates wrote that it was “burning a hole in my pyjamas at age eight” that sparked their passion for the subject."
So much about individualism.
The reason this depresses me is that these young people willingly give up the offered possibility of personalizing their application. The alternative is being reduced to numbers and, eventually, being assessed by some measure for success.
So, evidently, copy and pasting others' texts is becoming ever more common, and many people at least claim to not know it's unethical not to properly cite ones' sources. Where does this get us? I am wondering now if not time will come when a scientist can assemble parts of his paper from already published articles - a motivation from there, some literature review from there, summary of the method from there, of course marked as quotation - and just add the relevant new equations, tables, and figures. Does everybody really have to write the always same introduction in his own words (and then plagiarize himself in further publications)?