Confidentiality and Plagiarism

Published in volume 19, issue 3, August 2009

This issue has three interesting papers. The first, Integrating testing with reliability, by Schneidewind, explores issues at the intersection of testing and reliability, with the goal of discovering which test techniques have the strongest impact on reliability. The second paper, Inclusion, subsumption, JJ-paths, and structured path testing: a redress, by Yates and Malevris, explores the JJ-path (LCSAJ) test coverage criterion, correcting errors in previously published theoretical statements about JJ-paths inclusion relationships with other test coverage criteria. The third paper, Testing with model checkers: a survey, by Fraser, Wotawa, and Ammann, provides a comprehensive survey of how model checkers have been applied to software testing problems.

A few years ago I attended a lecture by Professor Robert B. Laughlin, physics Nobel Laureate. He said that "globalization imposes a tax on young peoples‐they have to learn English." We all know that English is the primary international language, but viewing the process of learning English as a tax to join the global culture is thought provoking. Interestingly, I noticed an "inverse tax" on native English speakers on a recent trip to Shanghai. Buying food at a restaurant where the workers speak English costs quite a bit more.

Along with the "language tax," globalization requires adopting a world view that is compatible with the rest of the global culture. This world view has many different aspects. As scientists and educators, we often see this in terms of plagiarism. A recent submission to STVR had entire sections copied verbatim from previous papers. During investigation, we also found that the same paper had been simultaneously submitted to another journal. Naturally, the paper was rejected, the authors' supervisor notified, and the authors are prohibited from submitted to STVR again. Oddly enough, the authors did not seem to understand they'd done anything wrong!

Although I'm not a philosopher, this mismatch of world views seems to be at the heart of morals and ethics. We could define level 1 thinking on plagiarism to be "I think plagiarism is okay" and level 2 to be "I will be careful when I plagiarize because I might get in trouble." Level 3 could be "I think plagiarism is wrong, but will do it when the perceived benefits outweigh the tangible risks of getting caught and the intangible risks of upsetting my own conscience." Then level 4 could be "I think plagiarism is wrong and will not do it." Level 1 thinking is clearly not the common world view of the global society, but levels 3 and 4 are.

Plagiarism is more important to us than most groups. Science and research cannot thrive without openness and honesty. By accident or intent, our reputation is essential to our success as scientists, and a serious tangible risk of plagiarism is having our reputations destroyed forever. This would be a career-ending event for most scientists.

The journal also recently had a breach of confidentialitys‐a paper under review was shared with some students, one of whom contacted the author directly. It was an innocent mistake, no damage was done, and appropriate apologies were made, but the incident serves as a reminder of how important confidentiality is. Papers submitted to a journal should only be available to editors and reviewers, and all ideas and results in the papers must be protected until the paper is published. Even with a paper that will eventually be published, the authors could be embarrassed by mistakes that are eliminated from later versions. Confidentiality also requires that reviewer's names be withheld from authors and from each other. This is necessary to ensure that reviewers feel safe to provide honest open opinions.

Avoiding plagiarism and protecting confidentiality preserves STVR's reputation and its brand name. Happily, both seem to be in good shape. Our publisher tells me that STVR's Journal Citation Reports' impact factor is above 1.0 for the second year in a row, cementing its place as a top software engineering journal.

Jeff Offutt
27 July 2009