At the beginning of every semester all the grad students and profs get numerous emails with information regarding plagiarism and cheating and what to do if you have a student you suspect of cheating and/or plagiarism. Today I received a few of these emails. I had to chuckle to myself slightly because when I was working on that manuscript I came across a few instances of possible plagiarism in journal articles published in well respected scientific journals. I find it somewhat amusing that without fail every semester profs and grad students get up in front of their class and lecture about how bad plagiarism is and not to do it yet who do you think writes or at least okays these publications in scientific journals.
The reason I say I came across possible plagiarism is because it wasn't paragraphs of text that were plagiarized but perhaps part of a sentence or even a sentence or two. I read way too many papers to count when I was working on that manuscript and whenever someone would cite another paper I would usually go look it up. I've come across a few incorrect citations in my day so now if I'm going to cite something I go to the original paper to make sure the info is there. Well, lo and behold the exact same sentence that is in the original paper appears in the paper that cited the original. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not. I'll admit that in some cases some results can't really be reworded. Such as protein X binds to protein Y and causes result Z. It's hard to reword that however if it's some statement in the intro, say, that isn't results based but more of a theory and the exact same wording appears in both papers it seems odd to me.
In most instances of possible plagiarism I came across it was only part of a sentence or just one sentence that was the same. Now I know the definition of plagiarism is copying someone else's ideas and presenting them as your own. Is this a case of those writing scientific articles thinking that a few words copied word for word is so minor that it is really not plagiarism? In one case I even found one paper that had the cited paper's title word for word in the body of their paper. Come on? You couldn't at least reword that? Now that's just plagiarism with a side of laziness.
If ever you are unsure whether you are plagiarizing or not, go by this rule: