Scientific Plagiarism: Fairness vs. Honesty

Scientific Plagiarism: Fairness vs. Honesty

Kenneth D. Pimple describes plagiarism as, “a way of stealing credit, of gaining credit where credit is not due, and credit, typically in the form of authorship, is the coin of the realm in science. An offense against scientists qua scientists is an offense against science, and in its way plagiarism is as deep an offense against scientists as falsification and fabrication are offenses against science” (as sited in Stemwedel, 2013, para. 4). Janet D. Stemwedel, a writer for Scientific American, has written many online articles on the topic of “Doing Good Science.” In her article, “How plagiarism hurts knowledge-building: Obligations of scientists (part 4)” she uses ideas from Pimple to help describe the impact of plagiarism. Pimple’s idea is that falsification, or rather making things up, defiles the value within a work, idea, theory, etc. of science. The value of the work diminishes because it is based on fabrication rather than careful observations. Plagiarism on the other hand, does not alter the value of a piece of scientific work. He compares it to if Einstein had plagiarized the Theory of Relativity: the actual science does not change, but it affects the community of scientists. Pimple’s concept is that plagiarism is unjust, but not dishonest to the value within a project (Stemwedel, 2013, para. 4 & 5).

Stemwedel went on to acknowledge that Pimple’s idea highlights the importance of unfairness to scientists who are plagiarized, but disagrees that plagiarism doesn’t weaken the knowledge base of a scientific project. She uses the component of dialogue to support this. Typically after a discovery in science is made, there will be many questions posed and answers given in regards to the experiment. Someone who plagiarized this discovery would not be able to answer accurately and therefore undermine the value of the experiment (Stemwedel, 2013, para. 6,7,8).

This article made me think about the many different points outlined around plagiarism. To some extent, I believe that Pimple’s concept that plagiarism affects the scientist and community, but does not change the science itself, is correct. However, I think that is an inward focused paradigm that does not radiate how much value is lost in the actual science of an experiment when a scientist’s words are changed or discredited.

I support Stemwedel’s argument that science itself can be corrupted due to plagiarism. The Theory of Relatively might still be the Theory of Relativity had Einstein plagiarized it, but would it be different? I believe that if Person A plagiarizes Person B, something will be lost in translation. It is just the way human communication works in that no communication can be exactly the same. It will be said at a different time, there may be details missed, or even using different words can have an effect on how someone interprets information. As mentioned at the beginning of the blog, authorship and credit is the currency of the scientific community. Is Thomas Edison famous because he was rich in cash? Or because he was rich in knowledge and for the value of his scientific discoveries? I think if you plagiarize someone else’s work, you are committing an offense to that scientist, the science itself, and yourself. Plagiarism debauches the knowledge that could be used to enhance the project by hiding the true creator of the information.

While writing this post, I found myself curious about famous plagiarism scandals. You can look at a few examples here:



Stemwedel, J. D. (2013, December 23). How plagiarism hurts knowledge-building: Obligations of scientists (part 4). Retrieved November 23, 2016, from


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