Monday, 28 February 2011

Franklin G. Miller on Plagiarism in Bioethics

The Hastings Center's public online commentary site, Bioethics Forum, a few days ago published this piece by Franklin G. Miller on plagiarism in bioethics. Miller touches on his own recent experiences as a victim of plagiarism (which I published a post about recently), as well as presents some general thoughts on how the field of bioethics should relate itself to this phenomenon. His account ends with the following statement:
It is a sad state of affairs if bioethicists of all people can’t adhere scrupulously to the norms of scholarship, especially the most elementary ethical rule of refraining from misappropriating the work of fellow scholars.
If you have read my post on bioethics and plagiarism, you know that I couldn't agree more, and that – in my view – journal editors need to be particularly proactive in preventing plagiarised research to reach the stage of scholarly publication.


  1. I agree with you, but I think plagiarism is a general problem beyond bioethics, even an actual problem agravated by useful electronic tecnologies.

  2. Yup and yup! I actually think the problem is to a large extent seeping into bioethics from other fields and as a result of the expansion of bioethics the last decades. See my original post re. the Miller plagiarism case about this!

  3. I have noticed a related problem that contributes, I believe, both to reduced quality and possibly plagiarism in bioethics: because of the interdisciplinary nature of bioethics, some journals and publishers have imported the accepted convention from the sciences to cite without any page references. This needs to stop.

    This convention makes sense in science, when the citation is almost always to the central conclusion of a particular journal article. But in the humanities this is not the case at all. As a result you see a proliferation of meaningless citations that either do nothing to advance a point or serve as a "cover your ass" because anything you wrote in the paragraph that you took form the cited reference is now supposedly legitimately cited.

    I recently reviewed a bioethics monograph that contained no page references and it was clear that in some cases the author had not actually read the whole article, and certainly not the many books that were cited without any page given in their entirety!

    It also made it nearly impossible for me to check his references as I do not have the next year free to comb through 150 works to verify that they said anything remotely along the lines of what he claimed. I only took the trouble when a given claim conflicted what I already knew to be the case.

    Finally, you are quite correct in your earlier post about authors getting in way over their heads in conceptual issues they have no expertise in. So you now have people who publish articles on free will, autonomy, consciousness etc. with so little understanding of the extensive philosophical issues that the article would be an embarrassing joke in even a tertiary disciplinary journal, but is acceptable in an interdisciplnary journal where apparently you are encouraged to publish on topics you know very little about. .

    Hello Mr. neuroscientist whose last philosophical writing was done in college: I don't try to publish articles on signaling in the amygdala, why are you publishing an article on something you know nothing about? You are not contributing meaningfully to the discourse.

  4. Yep, as an author I've myself actually been forced to take out exact page references by journals several times.