Compilation of parts of research papers by cut-paste borrowing of complex
noun phrases, clauses, sentences and even pairs of sentences is a writing
strategy used by many researchers whose native language is not English.
In doing so, are such authors displaying good language learning behavior
(by acquiring language in “chunks” rather than as individual
words) or are they plagiarists? Their belief seems to be that originality
in science lies in producing new data sets, not new word combinations,
and that copying phrases and sentences—provided references are given—is
not only permissible when discussing another’s work or widely known
concepts but may even be proper and fitting. Furthermore, the scientists’
belief seems to be supported by the bits of choppy prose we sometimes
see in journals and by the use of familiar phrasing without quotation
marks. The impression is that journal editors and readers are indeed tolerant
of cut-paste writing.
To counterbalance this impression, this presentation will give an overview
of recent statements on the subject of plagiarism and writing made spontaneously
by journal editors on the email listserve of the World Association of
Science Editors (http://www.wame.org/) and will describe cases in which
editors have reacted very negatively to cut-paste writing. Finally, ways
language consultants—whether author’s editors or translators—might
sometimes unwittingly contribute to this practice will be discussed, along
with strategies for avoiding it, correcting its effects, and explaining
the problem to authors.
The words innocent and innocència in the title of this talk are
meant to suggest that while many of these authors are innocent of charges
of cheeky plagiarism, their practice arises from simplistic notions of
how new and old information fit together in academic communication.
Ellen Kerans has taught English for specific purposes in
the health sciences and is now a mainly a freelance translator, author’s
editor and oral communications coach in Barcelona, Spain.