National Differences

(May 27th, 2014) Plagiarism and duplicate publication are the reason for quite a number of research paper retractions. But are these unethical practices more prevalent in certain countries than in others?



A lot has been written about retractions of scientific literature. The most common denominator: their numbers are increasing. Maybe it is time to have a somewhat different look at the problem and, perhaps, provide a starting point to reverse the nasty upward trend.

In her latest article, Kathleen Amos, project manager at the US-based Council on Linkages Between Academia and Public Health Practice, focussed on two of the most common causes of paper retraction: plagiarism and duplicate publication. “Plagiarism has been estimated to account for 9.8%–17.0% of retractions, with duplicate publication representing another 14.2%–17.0% and studies have suggested that retractions for plagiarism and duplicate publication have been increasing in recent years,” she writes. Amos added another interesting point to her analysis, national differences. Is the propensity to plagiarise other people’s work more pronounced in certain countries, or is nationality irrelevant.

So, what did she find? First of all, more than 800 biomedical studies published between 2008 and 2012 and deposited in the PubMed database were retracted. That’s 0,02%. Plagiarism was behind 16% of all retractions, duplicate publication accounted for 18%. Involved authors came from 53 countries. 

In total, authors based in the USA retracted most papers (199); followed by 143 articles from China, 57 from Japan and 55 written by German researchers. Although the US leads the chart for overall retractions, China clearly “wins” the contest for most plagiarised (24) or duplicated (42) papers. When it comes to plagiarism, India (18), the US (17) and Italy (16) are not far behind. Duplicating papers also seems to be popular in the US (26), Japan (13) and Germany (9).

More informative than total numbers is perhaps the retraction rate, the percentage of plagiarised and duplicated papers of all retracted papers. “Authors from the United States (…) may have had the most retracted literature, but plagiarism and duplicate publication did not seem to be the most critical concern,” Amos writes. In fact, only about 20% of all US retractions were due to plagiarism or duplicate publication. 

Things are different in Italy. Here, Amos found that 66% of all retractions could be attributed to plagiarism. The number for French researchers (38%) is well over the 17% international average, too. Finnish and German researchers, on the other hand, do not seem to be interested in stealing colleagues’ thoughts and ideas. At least between 2008 and 2012, not a single paper from both nations was retracted due to plagiarism. Publishing a paper more than once, however, is an issue in Finland. Three of the Nordic country’s eight retractions were found to be duplicates. Also China and Tunisia scored high on the duplication measure.

“No country is unique in having to address issues of plagiarism and duplicate publication, although such unethical behaviours may be a more pressing concern for some countries than others,” writes Amos. Among those countries are authors from Turkey, Italy and Tunisia, for which over 70% of the retracted literature was “duplicative in some way”.

Amos suggests for every country to come up with their own “educational strategies related to publishing ethics or other means of ensuring publishing integrity”. Definitely, not an easy task.

Kathleen Gransalke

Picture: Fotolia/czaroot




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