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Lesser Crimes of Writing: Other Questionable Writing Practices

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Zigmond and Fischer (2002) have called attention to what they refer as the “misdemeanors” of science: ethically inappropriate practices in the conduct of scientific research. These authors explain that, whereas fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism are considered to be the “high crimes” of science, many other questionable practices frequently take place and that these lesser crimes should command more attention. Evidence for their position was verified in a study by Martison et al., (2005) who reported have shown that 33% of US scientists surveyed admitted to engage in some form of questionable research practices. Some examples of common misdemeanors are, neglecting to indicate one’s source of funding, failing to identify possible conflicts of interest, and establishing honorary authorship (assigning authorship to an individual whose contributions to the work do not earn him/her such status).

We can apply the high crimes vs. misdemeanors classification in the area of writing. In our previous discussion of plagiarism and self-plagiarism, we described a variety of practices, some of which would undoubtedly be classified as high crimes (e.g., appropriating the ideas or data of someone else without attribution), while others would fall under the misdemeanor category (e.g., inadequate paraphrasing and substantial text recycling). In this section, we turn our attention to other questionable practices that violate the spirit of ethical writing and that mostly fall under Zigmond & Fischer’s (2002) misdemeanor category.