Ethics and plagiarism

September 1, 2000

Plagiarism and the concepts of intellectual property are complex issues that baffle some academics as well as students.

Frank Furedi suggested it should be tackled with "an intellectual rather than a technical solution" (Soapbox, THES, July 14). But let us not forget the moral aspect of plagiarism. A questionnaire on academic misconduct at Dundee Medical School showed that although 82 per cent of students thought it was unacceptable to copy large chunks of text without acknowledging the source, only 22 per cent thought it was wrong to do the same and simply list it as a reference. Closer examination found this was more due to ignorance among the student body than ethics. Plagiarism may be addressed by technical methods such as plagiarism detectors, but this is reactive. More proactive technical methods would be providing written guidance. From a moral stand point, discussions about plagiarism may be incorporated into ethics teaching. It has been shown that it is possible to teach moral principles and that in doing so student behaviour can be influenced in a positive fashion.

S. Rennie and J.R. Crosby

Medical School

University of Dundee

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