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When is it plagiarism? June 6, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
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When I sit down to write a paper, I usually try to start from scratch.  I type up an outline and try to fill it in, and then I begin work on all the different parts of the paper.  While it has been tempting to reuse sections of previous papers, particularly the introductory material, I try not to do that.  If you work in a specialized field, people are going to notice that they’re reading the same thing over.  My writing may be fine, but after the 3rd or 4th time, it’s going to bore even me.

The issue came to the fore as I’ve been reviewing papers for a conference.  While it’s not one I think I will be able to go to (it’s usually in Asia), I have reviewed for this conference the past couple years and really get some interesting things to examine.  However, this year, all of the papers I reviewed has issues with self-plagiarism: that is, they copied verbatim materials from their own previous papers.  Many of the papers I review are now being checked automatically for similarity to other papers, and while the process is supposed to be double-blind (that is, they don’t know I’m reviewing their paper, and I’m not supposed to know that I reviewed theirs), it makes it very easy to figure out who wrote the paper I’m reviewing: it’s the one with huge tracts of text that are identical but never referenced.

As I mentioned, I try to write papers from scratch, but I started to wonder if this was an ethical issue.  After all, if I wrote a paper, shouldn’t I be allowed to copy it?  It turns out that it’s not a good idea.  In particular, most of the papers I’m dealing with will fall under IEEE copyright rules (that is, the authors transfer over copyright of their written materials should the IEEE publish those materials).  Therefore, if you wrote the paper and it was published by IEEE, it’s simply not a matter of copying your own writing but plagiarism of IEEE materials.  In fact, the IEEE communications society has an explicit policy that says,

IEEE Publications has long maintained the policy that verbatim copying of another’s work (plagiarism) is unacceptable author conduct.

The Communications Society values the intellectual contributions of its authors, and vigorously enforces the IEEE policy on plagiarism.  As IEEE modifies its publication policies, it is important that authors who submit their work to ComSoc journals and magazines are informed of these changes.

In November 2002, the IEEE Board of Directors approved a new policy on Duplicate Publication and Self-Plagiarism.  This policy is found in the IEEE Policies document, Sections 6.4.1B(f) and 6.4.1B(h).  These two sections are given below.

(f) Plagiarism is unacceptable.  The verbatim copying or reuse of one’s own research (as indicated in paragraph “h” below) is considered another form of plagiarism or self-plagiarism; it is unacceptable.

(h) Except as indicated in Section 6.3.4 (Multiple Publication of Original Technical Material in IEEE Periodicals), authors should only submit original work that has neither appeared elsewhere for publication, nor which is under review for another referred publication.  If authors have used their own previously published work(s) as a basis for a new submission, they are required to cite the previous work(s) and very briefly indicate how the new submission offers substantial novel contributions beyond those of the previously published work(s).

I know people who do this regularly.  All you have to do is read enough of their papers, and it becomes obvious that the intro section is commonly recycled by several authors.  I really don’t like the practice because it also drives up index values for papers that are simply examples of related work while not being foundational.  On the other hand, it is a pain to rewrite those sections every time.

I’m very glad the Com Soc is being very explicit about their policy.  However, other places are not as explicit, and this is honestly something that no one has ever mentioned to me.  It’s something I would like to see delineated more clearly by all publications as I think it would draw more attention to using ethical practices in paper writing and submission.

When reviewing, I can’t be certain that the person writing the paper is aware of the policies on self-citation, if there even is one for a given organization or venue, so I generally mention that it’s a good idea to change the text.  I’m always curious what the editors/session chairs do with this feedback, though.  Do they take it seriously?  Finally, it reinforces to me that it’s never a good idea to reuse previous writing unless it’s properly attributed, even if it is my own.


Where credit is NOT due… March 23, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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1 comment so far

My husband wrote a paper based on some of his dissertation work, and it now finds its home at IEEE Xplore.  I was listed as a co-author along with our advisor.  However, when it was entered into the database, apparently someone glitched up the authors: it had me listed twice (once with full name and once with first initial and last name) and he wasn’t listed at all.

He found this a few days ago, and now we’re waiting for them to correct the listing.

It certainly doesn’t look good, and I hope it gets fixed before someone thinks I’m trying to take credit for his work!

IEEE, you rock November 3, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, older son, societal commentary, younger son.
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In amidst the paper writing frenzy of the past week, I wasn’t paying close attention to email.  When I started sorting through my box, however, I came across this gem from Susan Hassler, the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Spectrum:

Dear Members and Readers,

Please accept our sincere apologies for the headline in today’s Tech Alert: “With the Arduino, Now Even Your Mom Can Program.” The actual title of the article is “The Making of Arduino.”

I’m an IEEE member, and a mom, and the headline was inexcusable, a lazy, sexist cliché that should have never seen the light of day. Today we are instituting an additional headline review process that will apply to all future Tech Alerts so that such insipid and offensive headlines never find their way into your in-box.

Spectrum’s insistence on editorial excellence applies to all its products, including e-mail alerts. Thank you for bringing this error to our attention. If you have any additional comments or recommendations, do not hesitate to contact me or other members of the editorial staff.

Running around some forums, however, I was surprised at the comments implying there was nothing wrong with the link title.


I admit that I saw the title and didn’t think much about it.  I was sort of in a mailbox deleting frenzy as I’m getting close to 1000 messages and barely keeping up.  When I read this, though, it hit me what I’d missed.

My mom is an accountant and has been an early adopter on many types of software, especially those particular to her industry.  Maybe she can’t program an arduino now, but she sure could if she wanted to.  She’s very technically competent, especially for a non-engineer.  So yes, I don’t like that it perpetuates this stereotype that women, especially mothers are not technically competent.

And I think I would flip if my kids saw this, or worse yet, agreed with it.  I am extremely proud of my older son for seeing through stereotypes, especially when it comes to women.  Unfortunately, my younger son is still very susceptible to these types of social messages, and this is the type of thing I don’t want coming in front of him.  We already have enough struggles with simple things like, “Pink is a girl color.”  I don’t want someone telling him that his mother is too stupid to program something (because, frankly, I’m not).  In fact, I’ve made a point to help him with fixing and making things so that he doesn’t get the idea that ‘dads fix things and moms cook’.

Anyway, kudos to the IEEE for calling this out and making a point that this sort of thing is uncool.  Getting rid of a lot of these thoughtless implications would really help to make the profession more friendly to women.

The 4th Amp Hour August 19, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
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Dave and Chris have a new Amp Hour up. You may particularly like to check it out if you were interested in the discussion on the IEEE (Fluxor?).

I do have to say, however, that Macrocat was very unimpressed and will no longer be listening.

Thoughts on the IEEE August 13, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering.
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I finally got around to listening to the third edition of The Amp Hour. I saw that one of the topics was going to be on the IEEE, of which I’ve been a member for about seven years, so I was quite interested.

And then I was quite disappointed.

Chris and Dave came to the conclusion that the IEEE was a good body to provide things like standards, but not good for much else. I realize that both of them work in industry and I am merely an academic, but I just thought I’d provide an alternate point of view.

A major part of being an academic is keeping up on current research and publishing research results, and the primary vehicle for that is journals. I think this is one area where the IEEE stands above most, if not all, professional organizations. They provide a huge variety of journals. Although they are not ‘open-source’, I have to say that the cost of membership and journal subscriptions is significantly lower than that of many other organizations and their journals. Maybe it’s not such a big deal for someone who is in a very narrow area of research. However, when your area of interest is ‘electromagnetics’, this can encompass many things and require subscriptions to many journals. I can subscribe to several journals in the IEEE for the cost of one or two in another society. Further, almost all of their journals have been put into electronic format, making it much easier to find and obtain journal articles.

In general, I have found that they are doing a lot to try to benefit working engineers, but much of this is in the realm of political action. One particular issue that comes to mind is that IEEE USA been fighting to keep the limits low on H1B visas and offshoring. (Take a look here.) Another issue they’ve pursued is trying to make health insurance portable, so that if you lose your job, you don’t have to switch insurance companies. These sorts of things affect all engineers, and I appreciate that there is a professional organization that is making these things a priority.

There are other more tangible benefits, like dental insurance, life insurance, credit cards, yada yada.

Finally, there are also benefits to having a local chapter where you can get to know other professionals. Obviously, this means networking. Chris and Dave mentioned that sometimes they have presentations, which Dave mentioned were ‘dry’. I think that depends on the flavor of your local chapter. I know that for a while, our local chapter was dominated by academics, and yeah, some of those presentations would be on the slow side. On the other hand, there are also tours of facilities as well as some fairly interesting presentations given by those in industry. I would venture to guess that the local chapter will depend a lot on those who get involved, and that someone who wants to get more out of their chapter could do so by volunteering to help organize meetings or find speakers. I know that some chapters of the EMC society, for example, are composed primarily of industry professionals, and I imagine most of the presentations would be very relevant to those working in EMC and EMI aspect of engineering.

I do realize that membership in such an organization may value in utility for some people. On the other hand, I think that some of the notion that the organization is useless may hinge upon one not being aware of what they offer and not getting involved enough to make it useful.

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