Why cite? The problem of plagiarism

“In the bachelor’s thesis written by the new Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Petr Krčál (…), there are many pages of the same text written previously by another author. In some chapters, including the introduction, whole pages have been copied from another bachelor’s thesis. (…) The minister has told the server that he is unable to explain the likenesses and that he had written his thesis in an honest manner. (…) Concurrent pages are found on the first approximately 30 pages of Krčál’s thesis, the server claimed. A total of 25 pages of copied text was discovered, or of text that differed only in individual words.” The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs sat at his post for only 21 days before he resigned.  

Taťána Malá was even quicker in resigning, as she had plagiarized two of her master’s theses – she remained at her post for only 13 days: “Specifically, there are only eight or nine pages of original text from the total of 25 on theory. The remainder of the thesis, i.e. 16 or 17 pages, is a verbatim copy of paragraphs and whole chapters of texts, which has only been intermittently restructured.” 

These two politicians are not the only ones who lost their jobs and careers thanks to plagiarizing. Not long ago, the vice-rector of Charles UniversityMartin Kovář, an otherwise top-notch popularizer of science, was also forced to resign for the same reason. So what did they do wrong?   

In order for a person to gain a university degree, they must hand in a certain written work in which they are required to use sources properly. This means knowing how to clearly name what a person has relied upon from other authors and what his or her original contribution is. At the same time, these theses usually require a certain predefined number of pages. As anyone could guess, the easiest way to get around this is to plagiarize, or copy. Martin Kovář mainly copied his citations and bibliography, while Taťána Malá and Petr Krčál copied whole pages. Then they slightly modified them (e.g. using synonyms, changing the order of words in a sentence) and claimed it was their own work. This is a criminal act according to copyright, because it’s the theft of someone else’s ideas.  

If a person commits plagiarism, it can destroy their career – just like the two government ministers mentioned above.Karl-Theodor zu Guttenbergone of the most popular German politicians, ended up the same way, and the list goes on. At present, we can observe quickly growing demands for citation ethics and also the social pressure that’s linked to it. If a person doesn’t want to end up as a publicly denounced fool with a wrecked career, which can come back to haunt them at any time in their professional lives, he or she should be careful.  

Masaryk Universitydefines plagiarism as the following:Plagiarism can be considered the intentional copying of a foreign text and passing it off for one’s own; negligent or inaccurate citations of used literature; or forgetting (albeit unintentionally) to cite a used source.” Or in APA: “Plagiarism is the act of presenting the words, ideas, or images of another as your own; it denies authors or creators of content the credit they are due. Whether deliberate or unintentional, plagiarism violates ethical standards in scholarship.” The fundamental idea of plagiarism thus lies in the fact that someone is trying to pass off the work or thoughts of someone else as their own. The practical boundaries for discerning what is an act of plagiarism and what isn’t are much more complex.


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