The letter to Nature from a Chinese editor stating that 31% content of her journal is plagiarization (counted by a software with algorithmhas designed for this purpose) enraged a large part of Chinese researchers in the past days. On ScienceNet.cn, a major Internet community for Chinese scientists, heated debate on this topic continues to occupy the homepage. You must be surprised, if you can read the texts, that so many Chinese colleagues are holding the wrong stance on this issue. They speak out loud for excuses that are not valid and condemn the Chinese editor who wrote the letter as well as Nature‘s editor who published it.
The debate is particularly focusing plagiarization occuring in the introductory part of a research paper, sometimes even the discussion part.
There are many excuses they think reasonable to support their views. From these excuses one may speculate the cultural background which drives such a nationwide righteous atmosphere for a wrong deed.
One excuse is that only copying other’s experimental results (data, images, etc.) should be called plagiarization, whereas the introductory part of a research paper is not intended to represent the original contribution of the authors, therefore plagiarization in these part does no harm to scientific integrity.
Another excuse is that introductory texts for a heated field must have been described in every possible way by previous authors, so it is difficult to find yet another different order of words a.
A third excuse is the lack of English proficiency. And considering the above two, it is even acceptable to copy and paste.
Based on at least these excuses, it is said to be unfair to call plagiarization of introductory texts unethical, unless it is a conspiracy against Chinese scientists.
All these misunderstandings have the same origin: most of the the Chinese scientists feel at home being uncreative. Only without the necessity to be creative in thought but still having to publish would lead to the righteous excuses mentioned above. Writing an introduction section so different as to avoids any possibility of “coincident plagiarization” means that the author actually thinks differently from all previous researchers in this field, bringing in new angles or perspectives. This is the least standard if one decides to live on scientific research, otherwise he/she cannot get funded by merely picking up what others have missed or filling in occasional blanks. However this need not be the case in China, as evidenced by its second largest number of junk papers publish in recent years, in English, not to mention the much more Chinese junks within the country. Obviously the R&D part of the country’s GDP is spent on junk rather than creative works. It is not only feasible but compelling in China to live on producing junk papers. This is not people choose to do from time to time but the basic academic life style one may or may not be conscious of. That’s why so many Chinese researchers — most of which have little or no experience of western scientific training — feel wronged when blamed about plagiarization in introduction sections as they feel they have to.
Blame Chiniese researchers for lack of creative thinking, instead, then they will retort with nothing.