Software used to catch student cheats may soon be employed by journal publishers to help detect duplication and plagiarism by researchers.
Plans by two of the world's major academic publishers, Elsevier and Blackwell - which between them publish 2,500 journals - to try to counter the apparent rise in academic plagiarism were unveiled this week.
They come as an investigation by The Times Higher found that an Oxford University-based journal has been forced to retract an article it published in 2003 - after discovering (in the old-fashioned way) that it had been published elsewhere.
The editor of Tetrahedron: Asymmetry , Oxford chemistry professor Steve Davies, confirmed this week he was officially withdrawing an article after one of its co-authors complained it had been submitted without his knowledge and had appeared in a Chinese journal a year earlier.
Shende Jiang, a professor of chemistry at Tianjin University in China, complained to Professor Davies in May last year that the article published in a 2003 edition of Tetrahedron: Asymmetry had appeared in English in 2002 in a Chinese journal, Chemical Research in Chinese Universities .
Professor Jiang had produced the research at Sunderland University, where he was a postdoctoral student between 1996 and 2002, working under chemistry professor Gudial Singh.
He alleged the article had been submitted to the Chinese journal with the full knowledge and consent of Professor Singh, but that Professor Singh had submitted the same work to Tetrahedron: Asymmetry without his knowledge or approval.
Professor Singh said that he had not been aware of the Chinese journal article, which Professor Jiang had submitted without consent. But an investigation by Sunderland concluded that Professor Jiang was "perfectly innocent" in the affair.
Last October, Jeffrey Brown, Sunderland's deputy vice-chancellor, told Professor Jiang that he would write to the Oxford journal - "this would then bring Professor Singh's submission of a paper on work already published to the attention of his (national and international) peer community, which after all is the community that will have the most interest in this academic malpractice".
Professor Singh left Sunderland after the start of its investigation but before its completion. He is now at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. A spokeswoman for UWI said: "The issue has been brought to the attention of senior management. We prefer not to comment on the matter until they have reviewed the situation thoroughly."
Professor Davies said this was the first ever case of duplicate publication discovered by his journal in its 16-year history, although he had rejected previous submissions "on the grounds of oversimilarity to previous publications".
A spokeswoman for Elsevier, which publishes Tetrahedron: Asymmetry , said retractions were rare. She confirmed that Elsevier had made an "investment" in software to detect plagiarism and duplication of articles, but said that the initiative was in "very early stages".
Last week's edition of Nature reported that Blackwell was also looking at using the software, which highlights passages in articles published elsewhere.
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