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We've seen that before

india Updated: Feb 20, 2012 23:28 IST

Hindustan Times
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It seems Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's top scientific adviser CNR Rao and his band of merry men - three reputed scientists from top scientific institutions of the country - have been cherry picking some interesting material from the work of other scientists and passing them off as their own. This is not the first time, people - reputed (and talented) people that is - have been caught doing such things. Often people - the kind-hearted ones - say imitation is actually the sincerest form of flattery. But the truth is, not many people find it amusing when they find that their work has been picked up by someone else without giving them any credit.

To cut a long and not-a-plagiarised-story short, the Indian scientists have apologised to Advanced Materials, a prestigious journal, for "reproduction of text from an article" that appeared in another journal, Applied Physics Letters, in 2010. They apologised for the "oversight" and for any "miscommunication". In other words, the scientists forgot to issue a 'footnote' that the four contentious lines were picked up from another source. The thing about plagiarism is that it is considered so if the offenders are caught. Otherwise, if it passes the stress test - called peer review in academics - then no one's really bothered.

So why is that people who plagiarise are not bothered about the after-effects like bad press and public denouncement? After all, in the first place, they nick something because they want to be seen in a good light, be admired for their wonderful work. Our guess is that those who plagiarise are plain lazy. They are so hopelessly lazy that they don't even want to give the stolen text some new twists and turns. Of course, such twists and turns in science could be disastrous, but surely there must be some different ways of doing things. In pre-liberalised India, there was this joke about how Indian manufacturers were the smartest people around: while other countries would work hard to build or invent something, when it came to Indian manufacturers, they would just stamp 'Made in India' on foreign products. Today, it seems, our lazy intellectuals have forgotten even to do that: plagiarise with confidence.