Journals May Tackle Plagiarism

Academic journals are considering implementing novel anti-plagiarism software similar to the type professors use to catch copied work among their students.

CrossRef, a publishing industry association, and iParadigms, a software company specializing in intellectual property protection, announced a deal last week to create “CrossCheck,” an anti-plagiarism computer program for academic journals.

The software utilizes much of the same technology found in iParadigms’ “TurnItIn,” the program used by colleges to find illicit reproductions in students’ papers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Katherine J. Povejsil, iParadigms’ vice president of marketing, said that CrossCheck identifies matching passages and provides the full text articles .

“Our service cannot detect plagiarism,” Povejsil said. “All our service can do is highlight passages for a potential match. Then it is up to a skilled editor to look at that information and ask, ‘What does this mean?’”

Povejsil says CrossCheck will offer the most thorough search tool for publishing companies, but the software is not the first of its type. iThenticate, another iParadigms program that served as the basis for CrossCheck, facilitates article authentication by comparing new documents against a database of published articles and providing small excerpts from any documents with matching text.

Despite the popularity of anti-plagiarism programs used on student work in college campuses, such programs are rather rare in academic publications. Many journals simply rely on experts to manually catch copied work during peer-review sessions.

“In days before electronic copies of articles, [peer reviews] were all we could rely on,” said Stuart M. Shieber ’81, a professor of computer science and a co-director of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “Now that we have computer tools, we don’t need to rely on just peer reviews.”

The program is still in test phases and is expected to be released in June, according to John G. Boucher, a project manager for CrossRef.

CrossCheck was tested last fall with eight publishers, according to the Chronicle, including the British Medical Journal Group, Elsevier, and Wiley-Blackwell. During the test, the full text of millions of proprietary articles were scanned and indexed into CrossCheck. The program also features over nine billion articles from current and archived Internet content.

“The publishers were very enthusiastic,” Povejsil said. “One of our specialties is that we can handle large amounts of content.”

But some academics still question CrossCheck’s accuracy.

“I don’t know of any infallible software,” said Berkman Center fellow Wendy M. Seltzer ’96.

Shieber also said that the software’s initial effects on the academic publishing world may be deceiving.

“You have to be careful about determining what is plagiarism and what isn’t.” Shieber said. “Judgment is necessary.”