Wetenschap - 31 januari 2017

Plagiarism detecting software finds PhD theses

Roelof Kleis

Scientific articles are being refused increasingly often due to the fact that plagiarism detection software finds the PhD theses that include the articles online. Due to this, PhD candidates are now allowed to place an embargo on their work.

(Photo: Shutterstock)
Scientific journals will only publish research that is original. To check that, they use advanced plagiarism detecting software. That software sees more and more, including unpublished articles in PhD theses that have already been placed online. This causes articles to be refused more often based on ‘self-plagiarism’, which is the reuse of one’s own work.  

Not original
The problem is a consequence of open access, says Theo Jetten, Information Specialist of the Forum Library. ‘We have already had several cases in which software sees our dissertations and based on one of its chapters tags a manuscript as not original work. As such, they refuse to publish it.’ PhD theses are not the only problem. ‘Due to open access, an increasing number of the early stages of an article are made available publicly: proceedings of congresses, EU reports, et cetera.’

To avoid problems, the Doctorate Board (DB) of Wageningen University & Research advises to add a clear explanation to any article submitted about the fact that it is part of a PhD thesis. According to Richard Visser, Dean of Research, an agreement was struck with many publishers that there would be no problems with publications in such cases. ‘But you must point it out yourself, in both the references and in the accompanying letter.’

An embargo is a strange solution, of course. It goes against the general trend of open access
Richard Visser, Dean of Research

In order to prevent problems, one can also place an embargo on a PhD thesis. The DB has decided that such an embargo may have a maximum duration of one year. During that period, the thesis will not be available online. The decision for an embargo lies with the scientists involved. However, Visser approaches the embargo ambivalently. ‘An embargo is a strange solution, of course. It goes against the general trend of open access.’

‘There is something twisted about an embargo’, agrees Jetten. ‘A PhD defence is a public affair. That would mean you place an embargo on information that has already been defended publicly.’ Yet, he thinks it is possible. ‘The defence is public, but you could argue whether that makes the thesis public as well. There is no legislation that would forbid an embargo. Not here, nor nationwide.’

‘We are moving toward a policy in which everything that has come about using public funds should be made public’, Jetten continues. ‘In this respect, The Netherlands takes an advanced position. The publishers are not yet entirely adapted to that idea.’ The DB will ask the VSNU, the umbrella organisation of universities in the Netherlands, to set several more details together with the publishers.