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Plagiarism: deliberate, inadvertent - but most importantly - translation
Thread poster: xxxLia Fail
xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:38
Spanish to English
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Mar 13, 2009

Plagiarism - of words and/or of ideas - is very tricky to deal with and also unclear, and especially when it comes to what I call "translation plagiarism" (although I very much doubt I coined the expression, just there's so little written about it).

Translation plagiarism is when you translate a sentence in the source language in a way that ends up using almost the exact same words as the original source used by the original author - inadvertently (unless you develop a nose for this and charge accordingly - excpet it can't be cosidered ethical). This can potentially happen a lot with med texts published online (abstracts in PubMed, for example, or full free texts, available to researchers everywhere, and translated to your source langauge... then you are asked to translate them).

I'm translating a text - medical, a field where the rules are very strict - and sweating it out!

I received 2 texts from a client to translate from ES to EN. I started the first and found that 20% had been copied directly - in Spanish - from a text available online. Feeling I had to tread very delicately, I contacted the Head of the Dept (who'd contacted me originally, not the author). In my mail (I was very respectful), I referred to inadvertent plagiarism etc etc but pointed out the possible serious consequences for the author and my own ethical dilemma. It was eventually agreed that the plagiarised parts would be rewritten in the author's own words with additional citations from other sources (in other words, the lazy git had to do some reading up!).

I am now 2/3rds of the way through the second article (by the same author): my antenna are on red alert, becuase as I've progressed through it, I'm finding two issues: A) the author appears to mostly have read abstracts and NOT the articles, and B) he has translated isolated but complete sentences from the abstracts directly and literally to ES, leaving me in the position of having to check every single abstract to find the source sentence so as to avoid translation plagiarism (explained above, in other words I can't translate freely, I have to also make sure that my translation doesn't inadvertently replicate the source). This situation is more complex, becuase it's a line by line plagiar¡sm from many sources - with a few words of the author's own thrown in occasionally (by the way, all the sources ARE cited, almost all correctly).

I'm more than a bit fed up, but plan to see the text through to the end (now I've started ...) but would not be willing to "get involved" in such situations again. They are time wasters (false starts, translation that relies on doing endless searches to check original phraseology and deliberately changing it, and of course, the ethics issue, not to mention the difficult situation of telling authors what they should know/respect). I intend to send this author the guidelines below and politely but firmly point out that he's laying himself wide open - despite my best efforts with words - to an accusation of plagiarism of ideas. He has - largely - hobbled together a text that draws on single sentences from many abstracts and there's no indication he has read the articles he's citing.

Of Roig's Guidelines, reproduced below (and see the link for further expansion), here are 9 (of 27) guidelines that directly affect translators, with some comments of my own in *:


6. When paraphrasing and/or summarizing others’ work we must reproduce the exact meaning of the other author’s ideas or facts using our words and sentence structure.
*Oops, difficult for a translator. we often refer to the source for our terminology and phraseology!*

7. In order to make substantial modifications to the original text that result in a proper paraphrase, the author must have a thorough understanding of the ideas and terminology being used.
*Oops, difficult for a translator, we're not always field experts!*

8. A responsible writer has an ethical responsibility to readers, and to the author/s from whom s/he is borrowing, to respect others’ ideas and words, to credit those from whom we borrow, and whenever possible, to use one’s own words when paraphrasing.
*Seems a bit unreal, to what extent is changing sentence order going to be considered acceptable? Plagiarism is about ideas too, not just words, and translators often don't have a real handle on the "ideas"*

12. Because some instances of plagiarism, self-plagiarism, and even some writing practices that might otherwise be acceptable (e.g., extensive paraphrasing or quoting of key elements of a book) can constitute copyright infringement, authors are strongly encouraged to become familiar with basic elements of copyright law.
*And translators too*

13. While there are some situations where text recycling is an acceptable practice, it may not be so in other situations. Authors are urged to adhere to the spirit of ethical writing and avoid reusing their own previously published text, unless it is done in a manner consistent with standard scholarly conventions (e.g., by using of quotations and proper paraphrasing).
*I have seen this, but not in medicine, but feel that this is an issue that's the author's decision*

17. Generally, when describing others’ work, do not rely on a secondary summary of that work. It is a deceptive practice, reflects poor scholarly standards, and can lead to a flawed description of the work described.
*S-O obvious, but a big problem for the translator if the author has composed a paper based on sentences from abstracts*

18. If an author must rely on a secondary source (e.g., textbook) to describe the contents of a primary source (e.g., an empirical journal article), s/he should consult writing manuals used in her discipline to follow the proper convention to do so. Above all, always indicate the actual source of the information being reported.
*I've seen authors cite other authors but not refer back to the primary source - looks bad!*

19. When borrowing heavily from a source, authors should always craft their writing in a way that makes clear to readers which ideas are their own and which are derived from the source being consulted.
*A translator problem potentially arises here, precisely becuase we often refer back to the source for terminology and phraseology - but are not expert enough to rephrase*

23. Authorship determination should be discussed prior to commencing a research collaboration and should be based on established guidelines, such as those of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.
*ICMJE reqires ALL persons involved in the text to be named, so that includes translators. However, sometimes translators don't want to be associated with works, of, for example, there is a suspicion of plagiarism, text is manipulated after submission, etc.*

See here for the full guidelines: http://facpub.stjohns.edu/~roigm/plagiarism/Index.html


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:38
English to Dutch
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I don't really understand the problem Mar 14, 2009

If I understand correctly, you're given a text in ES that contains citations that have previously been translated from EN. And now you're asked to translate the text into EN.
If I were to do such a job, my problem would be to find the original (EN) citations and copy them _exactly_ as they were. They are citations after all - and thus should NOT be changed.
If your author has plagiarized them, that would be his problem, but he didn't, as he provided sources, didn't he?
So your problem is the exact opposite from what you say: you shouldn't take care NOT to get identical texts, you should take care you DO get identical texts.

Or am I missing something?


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
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Clarification for Jan Mar 14, 2009

Jan Willem van Dormolen wrote:

.... find the original (EN) citations and copy them _exactly_ as they were. They are citations after all - and thus should NOT be changed.



One thing is quoting text (in inverted commas) and another is citing text (giving a reference). Cited text should be paraphrased, and quoted text given verbatim in inverted commas, but the latter is not standard practice in research articles.

Jan Willem van Dormolen wrote:

If your author has plagiarized them, that would be his problem, but he didn't, as he provided sources, didn't he?



Plagiarism is far more complex. You not only have to provide sources, there are other guidelines.

Guidelines 6 & 8:
6. When paraphrasing and/or summarizing others’ work we must reproduce the exact meaning of the other author’s ideas or facts using **our words and sentence structure**.
8. A responsible writer has an ethical responsibility to readers, and to the author/s from whom s/he is borrowing, to respect others’ ideas and words, to credit those from whom we borrow, and whenever possible, **to use one’s own words when paraphrasing**.

My author is reproducing the exact meaning and structure, OK, in Spanish, but it's about ideas too, not just words, and I'm having to bend over backwards to rephrase, becuase I simply have to avoid reproducing the original EN words. I could, if I put them in inverted commas, but a) that's not standard in journals, and b) if I did the text would be full of sentences in inverted commas, with just a few of the author's own sentences.

Guideline 17:
17. Generally, when describing others’ work, **do not rely on a secondary summary** of that work. It is a deceptive practice, reflects poor scholarly standards, and **can lead to a flawed description of the work** described.

My author is largely relying on abstracts.


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JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 16:38
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
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Track them down, yes, but to copy, not to change! Mar 14, 2009

Jan Willem van Dormolen wrote:

If I understand correctly, you're given a text in ES that contains citations that have previously been translated from EN. And now you're asked to translate the text into EN.
If I were to do such a job, my problem would be to find the original (EN) citations and copy them _exactly_ as they were. They are citations after all - and thus should NOT be changed.
If your author has plagiarized them, that would be his problem, but he didn't, as he provided sources, didn't he?
So your problem is the exact opposite from what you say: you shouldn't take care NOT to get identical texts, you should take care you DO get identical texts.

Or am I missing something?


I fully agree with Jan Willem. I translate academic texts, with footnotes and citations. The most laborious and time-consuming part of my task is finding all those original sources. But once I find them, I COPY THE QUOTATIONS EXACTLY AS I FIND THEM!

To quote Jan Willem again, "Am I missing something?"


Later: Thanks, Lia, for the further explanation. I see your point. However, when I find that situation, I simply add quotation marks. I also contact the client (and/or the author, when possible) and suggest that they do the same in their original text, and that they add a "my translation" note.

As to the use of abstracts, and the failure to use quotation marks in the original--that is the author's responsibility, not the translator's. It's up to the publisher--and the reader--to discern and judge accordingly. If it bothers you to be involved in the process, I wouldn't blame you for declining such jobs in the future. It's so much nicer to translate an author you can respect! But we don't always have that luxury.

Cheers!

Jane

[Edited at 2009-03-14 17:03 GMT]


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:38
English to Spanish
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Now I can see the problem Mar 14, 2009

First of all, if there is true plagiarism in the source text, that is not your problem; you was not hired as a private detective and you are not suposed to catch the bad guys who plagiarize texts. In that case, don't waste your time researching, they won't pay you for that time. If you discover some plagiarism, you would be very nice warning your client, but that is not your work nor your problem, you'd better not waste your time with that. I can't see any ethical problem with that.

But I can see the problem. The text may be something like this:

"Although Smith et al (2007) claimed blah blah blah, we should not discard the possibility of..."

Being "blah blah blah" what Smith et al claimed, written with your client's words. A you said (if I've understood well), you should not unintentionally use Smith's words. Doing so, you would be inaccurate, because your client did not use the exact Smith's words. Even not doing so, you could loose some accuracy because you did not read the exact Smith's words.

IMO, your client must provide you the texts he/she is quoting. Note that many scientific texts are not available on Internet for free, and if you had to pay for reading all the articles cited you may end paying more money than you will earn with that translation. Your client must provide the articles he cited or you shall not assume any responsanbility for the accuracy of the cited texts, period.

¡Salud!

Ignacio Vicario Esteban

[Edited at 2009-03-14 18:01 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-03-14 18:05 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-03-14 18:07 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-03-14 19:16 GMT]


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Jan Willem van Dormolen  Identity Verified
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Local time: 22:38
English to Dutch
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Mist fading away Mar 14, 2009

Ah, with Ignacio's explanation, I think I understand the problem now. But if he's right about the problem, he's also right about the solution. It's not your problem if your author has been unethical. It would be nice of you to warn the client (which you did, if I read you correctly). After that, you just translate. Even IF your translation turns out to be identical to the source, that's not a problem - after all, there are only so many ways to put an idea into words. You simply warn your client that this might be the case in some instances, and any problem rising afterwards is your client's problem.

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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:38
English to Spanish
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Quotation marks are not right here Mar 14, 2009

JaneTranslates wrote:

Later: Thanks, Lia, for the further explanation. I see your point. However, when I find that situation, I simply add quotation marks. I also contact the client (and/or the author, when possible) and suggest that they do the same in their original text, and that they add a "my translation" note.

As to the use of abstracts, and the failure to use quotation marks in the original--that is the author's responsibility


No, neither the source nor the target text should use quotation marks, as Lia says that that the source text does not use the same words used in the cited text. In my former post I wrote an example of that. Here is another:

JaneTranslates' opinion in this thread is that quotation marks should be used, but in Lia's case I do not agree with that.

I am citing you, and I say where that cite can be found, but as I don't use your words, I must not use quotation marks; it would be a mistake.

¡Salud!

Ignacio Vicario Esteban


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 22:38
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
plagiarism and translators Mar 14, 2009

I see Jan and Jane don't work in the med area, and maybe you see things differently.

Ignacio, the problem is he's not citing (hardly at all) from the full texts, but from the abstracts (ver literal translations - hence he taking the ideas, although obviously not the words).

I've translated hundreds of med articles and have managed to get by without needing to read the full text but using abstracts to guide my interpretation, but when there's a doubt that I can't resolve, I ask the client.

I don't read full texts becuase a lot of the time I can't access them and I don't need to read full texts to translate a text that is written properly and clearly. And of course, there's a time factor!

I read full texts when I come across ones that are likely to be useful for background information (basically I create a corpus of full-length background texts and abstracts: this job of 4000 is being guided by a corpus of about 15000 words).

Ignacio: see what I wrote earlier. " I received 2 texts from a client to translate from ES to EN. I started the first and found that 20% had been copied directly - in Spanish - from a text available online. Feeling I had to tread very delicately, I contacted the Head of the Dept (who'd contacted me originally, not the author). In my mail (I was very respectful), I referred to inadvertent plagiarism etc etc but pointed out the possible serious consequences for the author and my own ethical dilemma. It was eventually agreed that the plagiarised parts would be rewritten in the author's own words with additional citations from other sources." Note that my translation to the EN of these Spanish words would nott have been plagiarism of words, but certainly plagiarism of ideas.

So I referred the problem back to the author, at the risk of losing that job and the one I'm doing now, and also the client (I lost a potential new client last year for exactly the same reason).

I don't think translators can wash their hands of the problem; in other words, we have to take a stand, especially as the ICMJE now wants all contributors to medical texts to be named. That means stand up and be counted, and take the flak if an article you collaborated in is publicly denounced as plagiarised.

In my case, I'm in a difficult situation, so have decided to finish this text and then seriously consider whether I will do any more for this client.

Plagiarism is becoming a major problem, especially since the Internet made it so easy to copy and paste. In more recent years, taking *ideas* in one language (especially from EN, through the world's largest med database, PubMed) and using not the *words* (obviously) but yes the *ideas* in a translation to another language, has simply added a new dimension to the whole notion of plagiarism.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 14:38
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
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Maybe I'm naïve... Mar 14, 2009

but it seems to me that it is not at all your responsibility to fix it. Once you suspected plagiarism, you could have simply refused to proceed with the translation. It is the author's responsibility to rewrite the material, not yours. By doing what you are doing, apart from being above and beyond the call of duty, are you not in effect helping the author to plagiarize?

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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
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responsibilities and lost time Mar 14, 2009

Tina Vonhof wrote:

but it seems to me that it is not at all your responsibility to fix it. Once you suspected plagiarism, you could have simply refused to proceed with the translation. It is the author's responsibility to rewrite the material, not yours. By doing what you are doing, apart from being above and beyond the call of duty, are you not in effect helping the author to plagiarize?



Tina

When I detected chunks of plagiarised text in the first job I sent it back straight away, end of story, fix it or else:-) I detected it before I had translated the first 1000 words, and it only affects the introductory part of the text.

This time it's different. It isn't chunks, it's single sentences, and the realisation dawned on me gradually - as I found more and more sentences from abstracts. But by now I've almost done the job. I have to decide what I'll actually say to the author, to point out the danger he's running, but obviously I deserve to get paid regardless. The situation is delicate, becuase this is more covert plagiarism - but he's contravening accepted guidelines, especially the ones I referred to in my reply to Jan.

I'm very much prejudiced at my own work level. First of I made a false start with the first job, had scheduled it in, turned down other work - then had to stop and return it. Now I'm struggling very slowly with the second job, trying sentence by sentence to paraphrase in some effort to salvage the text, although my heart isn't in it any more, it's extremely laborious and a bit soul destroying. I had actually asked the author straight out about this job when we talked about the previous one, and he said it was OK.

I can give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's unaware that hobbling a text together largely from abstracts is unethical too. But, in a way I feel angry, especially with this second text, as I feel he has foisted it on me. I have already lost a lot of time on the false start with the first text, and now on this.

I'm partly thinking aloud now, but I think I'll spell out all the ways he has placed his own integrity in question - to a greater or lesser degree (some aspects of plagiarism are simply impossible to prove) - and charge him for time lost on both texts as well as the actual translation. If he wants me to translate for him again, he has to assure me that he hasn't contravened any of the principles I personally defend (and based on Roig's 27 guidelines, but especially the ones that affect me as a translator). And if he does contravene them in the future, I will charge him for my time and send back the unfinished text.


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:38
English to Spanish
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Scientific plagiarism Mar 14, 2009

Lia, I suppose that you are talking about writing another one's ideas without any mention of the author of these ideas. If the original author is cited there is nothing wrong. In any case, I can't see any difference between copying ideas from the abstract or from the body of the article. In any case the author should be cited; otherwise it would be plagiarism. Do I miss again something?

Well, if you see plagiarism you can warn your client or you can refuse to translate it. If it is not an unintentional plagiarism, you may lose the client. That's all you can do.

My point is that you are not supposed to spend your time researching if there is plagiarism or not, that is not your work. If later, somebody discovers that the text is a clear plagiarism, nobody will blame you, the translator. Is that what worries you? You are not the responsible of checking that. You are not the author not the owner of the journal whet your translation will be published, if it were to be published. Checking if there is would involve carefully reading and fully understanding all the articles on that subject. That is not translator's work (if that were the case, translations would cost at least fifty times more). Once again, if there is plagiarism in the source text nobody will blame you even if your name is in the translated text, because it is clear (or should be clear) that you are just the translator, nothing more and, once again, everybody knows that it is not your work to research that.

If you were the owner of a cutler's shop, one of your clients could use the knife you sell him/her to kill somebody. If you are a translator, one of your clients could ask you to translate a plagiarism. In none of the cases you would be blamed for the misuse of your product or service.

May be your problem is that you don't want to help people to do dishonest things, and that's fine. But the additional work that discovering plagiarism would involve is not proportional (IMO) to the damage that that text would produce. From an ethical point of view it would be different if you suspected that, for example, a text about anthrax might be used by terrorists. In that case, and from an ethical point of view, I would spend a lot of time, if necessary, researching about it.

You were talking also about another problem and I will comment about it in another post.

¡Salud!

Ignacio Vicario Esteban


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
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reply to Ignacio Mar 14, 2009

RNAtranslator wrote:

Lia, I suppose that you are talking about writing another one's ideas without any mention of the author of these ideas. If the original author is cited there is nothing wrong.

.....

I can't see any difference between copying ideas from the abstract or from the body of the article.

Ignacio Vicario Esteban




The author is citing (mostly), otherwise I' might never have detected this problem:-)

My understanding of unethical writing is that someone who hobbles together an articles from sentences in abstracts is not acting ethically. See Guideline 17:

Generally, when describing others’ work, **do not rely on a secondary summary** of that work. It is a deceptive practice, reflects poor scholarly standards, and **can lead to a flawed description of the work** described


RNAtranslator wrote:


... nobody will blame you, the translator.

....

Checking if there is would involve carefully reading and fully understanding all the articles on that subject. That is not translator's work (if that were the case, translations would cost at least fifty times more). ...

...

you don't want to help people to do dishonest things, and that's fine. But the additional work that discovering plagiarism would involve is not proportional (IMO) to the damage that that text would produce.



Thanks, I want to charge 50 times more! This text is hell! And yes, I don't want to collude in unethical or dubious practices!

I think the damage is potentially great - for the author - but as far as I'm concerned I can ask not to have my name associated:-)


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JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
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Not sure we're understanding each other, Ignacio Mar 14, 2009

RNAtranslator wrote:

JaneTranslates wrote:

Later: Thanks, Lia, for the further explanation. I see your point. However, when I find that situation, I simply add quotation marks. I also contact the client (and/or the author, when possible) and suggest that they do the same in their original text, and that they add a "my translation" note.

As to the use of abstracts, and the failure to use quotation marks in the original--that is the author's responsibility


No, neither the source nor the target text should use quotation marks, as Lia says that that the source text does not use the same words used in the cited text. In my former post I wrote an example of that. Here is another:

JaneTranslates' opinion in this thread is that quotation marks should be used, but in Lia's case I do not agree with that.

I am citing you, and I say where that cite can be found, but as I don't use your words, I must not use quotation marks; it would be a mistake.

¡Salud!

Ignacio Vicario Esteban


I agree with the excellent advice that you are giving, so I'm not going to go back through the thread to find where I misunderstood. I thought that Lia was unknowingly back-translating, and discovered later that her translation almost exactly matched the abstract. If that is the case, I still maintain that she should copy the quotation from the abstract and add quotation marks. However, it is the abstract, not the article, that should then be cited, so I can see how things could get sticky.

Lia, I don't see how the rules regarding intellectual property would vary according to the field, but it's true that I don't work in medical translation, so I'll bow to Ignacio's judgment.

Good luck, and honest authors to us all!


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
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The other problem Mar 15, 2009

Lia Fail wrote:

another is citing text (giving a reference). Cited text should be paraphrased

(...)

My author is reproducing the exact meaning and structure, OK, in Spanish, but it's about ideas too, not just words, and I'm having to bend over backwards to rephrase, becuase I simply have to avoid reproducing the original EN words.



This is a different problem from plagiarism. Regardless the author cites the surce or not (in the later case it would be plagiarism) you have to read the cited text to avoid a literal quotation and that is more work. Too bad to you, but you can not do anything to avoid that. Otherwise, the translation would not be accurate.

The "publish or perish" policy resulted in a significant ammount of crap articles and it looks it is the case with the one you are translating.

Lia Fail wrote:

if I did the text would be full of sentences in inverted commas, with just a few of the author's own sentences


Is that article a review? If that were the case, it would be absolutelly normal to be full of ideas from other authors; that is the goal of a review and it would not mean it to be crap. Anyway if it does not mention the source of each citation it would be plagiarism.

¡Salud!

Ignacio Vicario Esteban


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
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Bad writing vs ethics Mar 15, 2009

Lia Fail wrote:

The author is citing (mostly), otherwise I' might never have detected this problem

My understanding of unethical writing is that someone who hobbles together an articles from sentences in abstracts is not acting ethically. See Guideline 17:

Generally, when describing others’ work, **do not rely on a secondary summary** of that work. It is a deceptive practice, reflects poor scholarly standards, and **can lead to a flawed description of the work** described

This text is hell! And yes, I don't want to collude in unethical or dubious practices!


A secondary summary? The abstract of an article is a primary summary, not a secondary one, and is written by the same one who wrote the full article. If that author did it well, using the abstract will never lead a flawed description of the work (a secondary summary written by somebody else yes, of course). But using the abstract only is a very bad practice indeed. Without carefully reading the full article you can not know if the conclusions are fully supported by the results, and more things that can not be seen in an abstract.

But bad practices when writing does not mean an unethical behaviour. That's where, in my humble opinion, you are mistaken (well, I might be actually who is mistaken). Some shops sell bad quality (so, cheap) umbrellas; are they unethical people? I buy cheap (so, bad quality) umbrellas, because it is not a problem if I loose one; I would buy a new one for the same small amount of money. Am I unethical too?. Yes, that article is crap, but it does not mean lack of ethics. The guidelines you mention are not about translations, are about writing original articles, and most important: they are about writing good enough articles, not about ethics. Regardless how bad the article be, it is not unethical unless it lie or don't mention the source of the citations.

Lia Fail wrote:

I think the damage is potentially great - for the author - but as far as I'm concerned I can ask not to have my name associated:-)


That's a different animal. I understand you on this.

¡Salud!

Ignacio Vicario Esteban


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