MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Notes on Plagiarism

"plagiarize... 1. To steal and use (the ideas and writings of another) as one's own. 2. To appropriate passages or ideas from another and use them as one's own...,"from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 1971.

Dr. R.W. Butcher, former Dean of the GSBS, writes the following regarding plagiarism:

"As scientists, we must place very high value on scholastic honesty, for it is only by absolute trustworthiness that we, and science, can succeed. One important characteristic of trustworthiness in scholars at every level, including as students, is proper attribution. By that I mean giving credit for ideas and writings to the person or persons deserving it. For example, if you copy words directly from a journal article or other source onto some document for which you will receive credit (like a paper, or review, or an open book exam) without attribution, then you are guilty of plagiarism! On the other hand, if you acknowledge the source, you are behaving ethically and (assuming that the observation is relevant) will receive appropriate credit.

Plagiarism is easy to commit. It takes neither talent nor ingenuity to copy another person's work and try to take credit for it. However, "getting away" with plagiarism may be much more complicated. This is because people who are likely to read your work are also very likely to have read what was plagiarized. When that happens, the best you can hope for is that your integrity will be diminished in the view of your reader. And the worst that can happen may be very bad indeed. For example, academic dishonesty can lead to expulsion from the GSBS, or after graduation, being fired from an academic or industrial position. It can also lead to sanctions by funding agencies, up to and including, in the U.S., time in prison if it can be proven that the scientific misconduct caused a waste of federal funds. In other words, if you commit plagiarism, you run a very great risk. More importantly, you will have broken faith with the rest of science.

It is manifest that there have been, and in this age of easier publication, that there will continue to be, instances of unintentional failure to cite other authors who should have been acknowledged. It can be argued that this is sloppy science rather than plagiarism. That is, plagiarism implies a willful use of another's work for one's own gain.

We have been told that perceptions of plagiarism differ in different cultures. That may be true when students from other cultures enter the GSBS, but it is each student's responsibility to learn our rules and ethics as taught by their mentors, by reading, understanding, and following the GSBS "Policies and Procedures" , and by taking the required course "The Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences". Stated succinctly, all of our students must live by the rules of ethics of the GSBS and this society. Plagiarism violates those rules of ethics, and no excuses for committing willful plagiarism are acceptable."


Example: Using the text written above by Dr. Butcher: If we quote Dr. Butcher, but neither cite him nor put his words in quotation marks, we may have committed plagiarism. For example, writing,

The subject of plagiarism has been described by Dr. R.W. Butcher, former Dean of the GSBS, in the following manner, "For example, if you copy words directly from a journal article or other source onto some document for which you will receive credit (like a paper, or review, or an open book exam) without attribution, then you are guilty of plagiarism!" (R.W. Butcher, GSBS website)

This is suitable attribution of his writings. However, if we had either left out the quotation marks, or the citation of where it came from, this could be construed as plagiarism.

Students may be accused of plagiarism by copying a figure from a published paper into a candidacy exam proposal, or by using the exact words of an author in a test, paper, or candidacy exam, without citing where the figure came from or without placing the exact words in quotations and giving the reference where the quote came from. In either case, readers of such examples might incorrectly construe the words or figures as coming from the author of the test, paper, or candidacy exam.

The best advice is to always cite where quotes come from and place the exact words in quotation marks, and always cite where figures come from, preferably in the figure legend.

For additional information on this topic, please refer to the section describing our Student Code of Conduct.