Plagiarism: On campus, it is a dirty word.
At the first Tennessee Science Forum of the year, Neal Stewart addressed this rising phenomenon in his lecture "Scientific Misconduct: Is it Getting Worse?"
Welcoming a new guest speaker in Thompson-Boling Arena every week, the UT Science Forum invited Stewart, a professor and Racheff Chair of Excellence in Plant Molecular Genetics and author of "Research Ethics for Scientists: A Companion for Students?" to discuss plagiarism in science, and the moral quandary it presents.
After a student plagiarized a portion of his research, Stewart began to explore the cultural implications of this trend.
"Do we live in a culture of cheating?" Stewart asked. "Is plagiarism and fabrication becoming more popular or more popularly reported?"
Colette Telatko, a freshman in supply chain management, admitted the reality of plagiarism at UT. Telatko confirmed that she has a handful of friends who have plagiarized and walked away without consequences.
"It's pretty interesting how we don't even realize that the work we are turning in isn't coming from us," Telatko said. "We rely so much on the Internet now; we don't even consider that these are the thoughts of someone else when we're using them in a paper."
Stewart emphasized morality as a central consideration, comparing fabrication to "cheating" in a relationship or an athlete taking steroids. Many people, Stewart noted, do not understand that recycling information, even their own work, is wrong.
Research shows that scientific misconduct is on the rise, which Stewart claims could be due to the growing pressures on researchers to produce new and life-changing scientific evidence.
In Stewart's opinion, research also shows that scientists tend to plagiarize more frequently the older they get and the longer they work in the field. Plagiarism then stems from more than mere laziness, sometimes growing out of the "publish or perish" mentality.
"The competition for grants right now is fierce," Stewart said. "People think, 'maybe my paper will be taken more seriously if I put his name on it.'"
Mindful of the threat of legal action, Stewart maintained that the best remedy is education and awareness. Accidental plagiarism can occur, but the underlying motives distinguish unintentional from purposeful misuse.
"The intent should never be to deceive," Stewart said.
The next Science Forum lecture is at the Thompson-Boling Arena Café on Friday, Sept. 13, at noon. The topic will be the UT Solar House, presented by Amy Howard and James Rose. For more information about upcoming lectures or Quest, visit http://scienceforum.utk.edu/.