In science, the conclusions that a researcher reaches rely on the data gathered. Ultimately that research may influence the opinions of others on particular topics. Therefore, accurate reporting of data is crucial. While this may sound easy, there are always gray areas. As Henry Bauer, a Professor of Chemistry and Science Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, wrote “But what if an experiment doesn't give the result you expected? What if it gives a result that you just know is wrong in some way? Isn't there the temptation to fudge a bit? Since you know what the right answer ought to be, why not just round the numbers off a bit?” This is a huge ethical dilemma in science, although not one that most scientists would admit.
Obviously, the falsification of any data is unacceptable. If the “rounding of numbers” significantly changes the outcome of the experiment, it is unacceptable as well. It is important that scientific researchers remain as ethical as possible in reporting their data, since that is the only way that real discoveries in science will be made.
(The following section on plagiarism was modified from a passage obtained from Bill Oye, Oregon State University Student Conduct Program. The original passage was developed in collaboration with faculty in the OSU Department of English.)
If you use words or ideas from another source, you must appropriately credit that source. For example, assume you want to use material from the following paragraph about cell metabolism.
A knowledge of cell metabolism is essential for understanding the biochemistry of microbial growth. Also, a knowledge of metabolism aids in developing laboratory procedures for preventing the growth of unwanted microorganisms. Because many of the important practical consequences of microbial growth, such as infectious disease or the production of useful products, are linked to microbial metabolism, a knowledge of microbial nutrition and metabolism is also of great use in medical and industrial microbiology.
(Michael T. Madigan, John M. Martinko, and Jack Parker, Brock Biology of Microorganisms, 9th edition, Prentice Hall, 2000, p.104)
Acceptable Borrowing: Direct Quotation (remember that this is rare in scientific writing)
In Brock Biology of Microorganisms, the authors say, "A knowledge of cell metabolism is essential for understanding the biochemistry of microbial growth" (1).
Material borrowed in any form should be identified in the Reference section. The following would be an appropriate listing for a scientific paper (however, you should always consult your instructor or supervisor to see if a particular format should be followed):
1. Madigan, M.T., J. M. Martinko, and J. Parker. 2000. Brock Biology of Microorganisms, 9th edition, p. 104. Prentice Hall, N.J.
Acceptable Borrowing: Paraphrase With Some Quotation
In Brock Biology of Microorganisms, the authors emphasize the importance of knowing about microbial metabolism and nutrition, saying it is “of great use in medical and industrial microbiology” (1).
The source is cited, and that portion which is borrowed word for word is placed in quotes.
Acceptable Borrowing: Paraphrase
In Brock Biology of Microorganisms, the authors emphasize the importance of knowing about microbial metabolism and nutrition, indicating that such knowledge can be used in three areas: (a) determining ways to prevent microbial contamination, (b) developing appropriate methods of growing microbes in the lab, and (c) for application when working with microbes in the fields of industry and medicine (1).
The paraphrase is acceptable and needs only a citation. The paraphrase has not borrowed the wording, sentence structure, or general organization of the source, but it has borrowed the specific ideas. Contrast it with the unacceptable "paraphrase" which follows.
In Brock Biology of Microorganisms, the authors stress the importance of knowledge of cell metabolism in order to completely understand the biochemistry of microbial growth. They suggest that such knowledge can aid in the culturing of microbes by developing laboratory procedures and in preventing the growth of unwanted microbes by developing suitable procedures. They even say that consequences of microbial growth, such as infectious disease or useful products produced, can be linked to microbial metabolism (1).
This is an unacceptable paraphrase despite the citation at the end. It does not borrow word for word perhaps, but it borrows word after word as it skips through the sentence substituting here and there. Furthermore, it borrows basic sentence structure and general organization.
Unacceptable Borrowing: Plagiarism
I believe that a knowledge of cell metabolism is essential, without such knowledge one can not understand the biochemistry of microbial growth. Because the results of microbial growth, such as disease or useful products produced by microbes, are linked to microbial metabolism, a knowledge of the nutrition and metabolism of microbes can be very helpful in the fields of medical and industrial microbiology.
This is an obvious attempt on the borrower's part to claim another's ideas. Besides hiding the source of the ideas, the borrower has used another's sentence structure and general organization. Even if the borrower really holds these ideas, such use of another person's work is plagiarism.
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