National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General Favorite Plagiarism Excuses

National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General Favorite Plagiarism Excuses

Sep 15, 2017

At the Quest for Research Excellence conference last month in Washington, D.C., the National Science Foundation (NSF) Inspector General, Allison Lerner, gave a presentation entitled, Research Integrity: Insights from the NSF Office of Inspector General.  In her presentation, Ms. Lerner covered topics such as the Fraud Triangle, the NSF’s RCR training policy, best practices for RCR training, RCR training and mentoring, and best practices for research misconduct investigations.  She ended the very informative presentation with a slide containing the NSF OIG’s favorite plagiarism excuses. 

Plagiarism is one of science’s cardinal sins and thus no joke, but these “excuses” are so bizarre, outrageous, or unbelievable, that they are worth repeating (verbatim from her presentation):

  • “I was distracted by bird vocalizations outside my thatched roof hut, grabbed my digital camera to get pictures of the pair of woodpeckers, and when I returned to my computer where I thought I had saved my changes to the material, it had crashed with the wrong draft saved. (a/k/a the Woodpecker Defense)
  • I guess my thinking was this person is just trying to understand what my research is about and what I’m proposing to do. And so how is letting him or her know that I got this text from this other paper, how is that going to help him understand better my project or what I’m trying to say?
  • I did not copy from the suggested source. We just both paraphrased from the cited author in exactly the same way.
  • As engineers, we do not use quotation marks around copied text.
  • Quotation marks are only needed for the copied words of “famous people.”
  • It’s only a proposal. It’s not like it’s a publication. The reviewers are smart enough to know what is my work and what is someone else’s.
  • My English teacher told me it’s not plagiarism if I change every seventh word.”

And the most bizarre of all ~

  • “A rogue British secretary did it.”

These excuses may be used as “teachable moments” in the conduct of research, and to discuss what are acceptable practices, particularly in the area of citation, and what are recommended practices when gathering material from source documents.

The University of Hampshire (UNH) has a wealth resources to help researchers conduct research responsibly, including avoiding plagiarism.  These include:


Bookmark and Share