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Call to get tough on copied papers

AN academic who pioneered software to detect and prevent plagiarism in university papers is calling for stricter enforcement of regulations to curb plagiarism.

"We need a law to counter plagiarism in academic papers," Shen Yang, an associate professor in the Information Management School of Wuhan University, said yesterday.

Shen developed the ROST anti-plagiarism software, which can detect and underline content similar to that in a database of 18.8 billion Web pages and 4.9 million papers, so that plagiarism can be found and withheld from publication.

The software, used by more than 20 universities and 100 magazines, was published in April last year. However, the detection results were only for reference, and suspect papers should be further examined by experts to ensure that content similarities were not accidental, he said.

He said he was still updating his system to prevent plagiarists sliding through loopholes by making adjustments to copied content, and to avoid misjudging accidentally similar papers as plagiarism.

"We are facing three dilemmas. We want it to be widely used, but this will cause academic disorder as there was too much plagiarism in previous papers," Shen said.

Clever changes

"We want it to be free, but the background servers must be funded, and self-checks against plagiarism are necessary, but we don't want it to be abused by students or scholars to make clever changes to plagiarized parts of their papers before submitting them to journal agencies," Shen said.

The Ministry of Education issued a notice on punishing academic misconduct in universities in March to supplement its 2004 regulations. They stipulated the standard process for reviewing research papers and the penalties for plagiarists, including warnings, expulsion, being stripped of academic awards and honors and to being referred for prosecution.

The regulations state the review should be objective, fair and open, but they were not effectively implemented, Shen said.

"Software alone can't bring this phenomenon to an end. We must effectively implement our regulations. Both the authors and the reviewers must be anonymous during the review process," he said.

"The recognition of academic projects must be put under stricter examination, and we should recruit research fellows with real interest and innovation. Otherwise, they can't produce valuable work," he added.

Plagiarism is rampant in Chinese universities, involving both students and staff. Academic papers are for sale on the Internet and some people specialize in helping others write academic papers.


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