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Fast track fast one

atvzcbFast-tracking publications leads to quick pecuniary gain, but also fraud or plagiarism, says John Buckeridge*

Dramatic increases in university enrolments, and the extra graduates that result, have resulted in increased competition for tenure in universities.  Tenure and promotion are dependent upon research grants and publication record; hence ‘publish or perish’ 1

But with this comes increasing incentive to purloin the ideas of others.  In a recent article in Nature 2, Praveen Chaddah extolled the acceptability of some forms of plagiarism, stating ‘copied text in a paper’s introduction or concluding paragraph’ may simply reflect the author’s poor English2.  He implies that this is only unacceptable if it is extensive; Chaddah believes that ‘scientists are not writers’ and concludes: ‘we value the originality of ideas more than language’ 2

Missed point

He has missed the point.  Non-citing of another’s text is theft.  Even if simply text, it is nonetheless plagiarism.  All that’s required is a citation that the text is from another’s work.  Rather than diminish the article, citation may well enhance it. 

On the same day as Chaddah’s paper appeared, an article by Henry Fountain in the New York Times described an ingenious mechanism to reduce the time to publication2.  Many journals ask authors to nominate potential reviewers.  Provision of suitable referees speeds up the process and ensures that appropriate reviewers are selected for complex topics.  On the surface this seems perfectly reasonable. 

However an entrepreneurial academic, Chen-Yuan Chen, of National Pingtung University in Taiwan, decided to facilitate the process by inventing 130+ fake reviewers whose email accounts he owned3.  These he recommended to editors, and his manuscripts were duly sent for assessment.  In reality, these fictitious pseudonyms permitted rapid self-review of his own work and positive response to the editor with few recommended changes.  Papers were published in remarkably short order.  The saga concluded when an editor became increasingly concerned and contacted Chen’s university, leading to Chen’s exposure.


This leads us to contemplate the penalties for plagiarism and the rôle of reviewers.  To suggest that intellectual theft may be ‘culturally acceptable’ is obfuscation.  If there is confusion in the minds of students (and staff) we must move to a mandatory code of practice for researchers.  This can be underpinned by knowledge that one infringement is one too many and will impact very negatively on one’s future career. 

As to reviewers… many of us spend considerable time in reviewing manuscripts.  But reviewing can be tedious indeed and often goes beyond assessing science, and into editing the manuscript.  A fair manuscript becomes a good manuscript following sound, professional review. 

In light of this, why not name reviewers with each publication? This will acknowledge their work and neatly diminish opportunities to invent fake referees. 

John Buckeridge is Professor of Natural Resources Engineering, RMIT University, Melbourne and Chair, IUBS Ethics Commission


  1. Buckeridge & Watts, 2013.  On ethics, the pursuit of knowledge, truth and status in the hallowed halls of academe.  Integrative Zoology 8: 223-231.
  2. Chaddah, P., 2014.  Not all plagiarism requires a retraction.  July 10.  Nature 511:127.
  3. Fountain, H., 2014.  Science.