In the world of Cricket, talismanic bowlers like Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, MuttiahMuralitharan, RavichandranAshwin, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Bishan Singh Bedi, SaqlainMushtaq are some of the notable names that have brought accolade for their country. Their peerless talent to spin the leather ball and breakthrough the opponent’s defences is incredible. However, shockingly the trick of spin is starting to get familiar and commonly practised in the field of scientific publications.
Nowadays journal publications have become a major factor in analysing the research output of an individual. In the current scenario of “Publish or Perish”, there seems to be a battle to achieve high publication numbers amongst researchers worldwide. In a quest to achieve maximum publications in a short span of time, some of the researchers have started adopting the trick of “SPIN”. In this case, there is no requirement of specific talent as all the things are executed with the help of freely available software’s on the web. The researcher only needs to know what he/she has to copy and from where.
As far as the publication ethics are concerned, copying someone’s other work is considered as malpractice and termed as “Plagiarism”. Even copying multiple lines or paragraphs from a single source is considered as unethical irrespective of whether you cite the author(s) of the source or not. But, what if you copy someone else’s words in length and convert it to make it look completely original, generally referred as “Paraphrasing”. This trend of falsification is slowly engulfing the research world. Thanks to the numerous free software’s available on the web.
The softwares mostly can be found in the name of Article spinner, Article rewriter, Paraphrasing tools and so on. Many of the researchers are widely using such software for evading the restrictions posed by journals and scientific regulatory bodies to curb plagiarism. These software’s take the required texts as input and then substitute different words with their synonyms to provide the output with zero similarity. However, in the process they sometimes completely jumble up the meaning of the sentences and scientific words thereby causing confusion in the mind of the readers leading to misinterpretation. Moreover, over-dependence on such software’s further declines the writing and reasoning ability of a researcher dealing severe loss to the scientific community.
When I heard about this, at the first instance I was not ready at all to believe the same. It seemed to me as if like some kind of a joke. This made me to try it for once and the results I got was indeed shocking. For the purpose I took one of my already published article entitled – “Phytoremediation and Nanoremediation: Emerging Techniques for Treatment of Acid Mine Drainage Water” published in the April 2018 issue of Defence Life Science journal (DOI: 10.14429/dlsj.3.11346). I took the first page of the article and used the online freeware – “Free Article Spinner”. The output received from the software was analysed for similarity using “Plagiarism Checker” (A free online plagiarism detector) as well as an advanced similarity checker “TURNIT IN”. Both the software’s were unable to detect any kind of similarity (0% similarity) (Refer Inset Images 1 and 2). However, the changes made by the software to the original text were quite disheartening and seemed unscientific at many places.
Being a reviewer and member of the advisory board of many journals, I receive numberof papers (articles) for evaluation each and every month. This is where I notice such practices quite often and it obviously hurts me a lot. One in every four articles has such kind of issues and it almost becomes impossible to make a thorough reading. It is always important the way an author presents a manuscript (proper use of language, grammar, clarity of text and images etc.).
Spinning articles and converting them to one’s own writing may evade the anti-plagiarism barrier but in turn makes the manuscript quite uninteresting, confusing and sometimes even irritating. It becomes quite a tedious task on part of a reviewer to evaluate such manuscripts and as such pose higher probability of getting rejected.
Image.1. Comparison of the original manuscript with the changed content after spinning with Free Article Spinner Software.
How to Curb the Menace?
Author(s) have been successful in utilizing the “SPIN” to their advantage. One can come across large number of articles that have been published in various journals with low quality content, duplicate data, and lack of clarity and poor use of language. Several factors are responsible for the current miserable scenario and must be taken into serious considerations.
Staying out from publishing in Paid/ Sub-standard journals: Author(s) must refrain themselves from publishing in low quality paid (predatory) journals that promise to review and publish the papers within a week or such small period of time. These journals operate with the sole motto of making business and earning huge profits, thus in the process compromising with the quality.
Strict Governmental Regulations: The government must set up a regulatory board to strictly monitor the functioning of journals and must evaluate their standard from time to time. Predatory journals must be blacklisted and author(s) publishing their work in such journals should be made answerable and penalised if needed. This would prevent further adulteration of scientific ethics and standards.
Awareness among research scholars and students at institutional level: It is the duty of faculty members, supervisors and project investigators to make aware the students and the research scholars about the detrimental effects of malpractices and plagiarism in research. A short duration course/module must be incorporated at the institutional level to make students, scholars and teachers acquainted with the various aspects of manuscript preparation and publishing, good research practices and others. Senior faculty members and supervisors should refrain from giving any kind of advices that would in any way support malpractice in any form.
Role of Reviewers: Reviewers and editorial members of journals have a major role to play in this regard. It is their responsibility to filter out such articles during the time of reviewing manuscripts. Manuscripts with paraphrased content can be easily recognised from their use of language and confusing sentences. This needs scrupulous reviewing of the manuscript without being just superficial. This will not only help prevent the journal from publishing unworthy and substandard articles, but in turn will also raise the standards of scientific publishing. Publons(https://publons.com), a Clarivate Analytics company and part of Web of Science group provides training modules and certificate in peer reviewing. This could help researchers and reviewers to ameliorate their peer reviewing skills, increase the pool of reviewers and curb the dissemination of illegitimate articles.
It is high time now that we put a stop to the so called “Spinners of Science”. The development of science and the scientific community for the benefit of mankind surely lies in our own hands. As researchers and academicians we must acknowledge the contributions science has made in our life. We must forbid ourselves and others from indulging in acts of scientific fraud and misconduct.
by Pratyush Kumar Das, Editorial Board Member, Biotech Express Magazine
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