Published in volume 28, issue 2, March 2018

This issue contains two interesting papers that address deep and difficult problems in testing. Heterogeneous fault prediction with cost-sensitive domain adaptation, by Li, Jing, and Zhu, proposes a new approach to predicting faults that incorporates cost. (Recommended by Hyunsook Do.) Improving lazy abstraction for SCR specifications through constraint relaxation, by Degiovanni, Ponzio, Aguirre, and Frias, presents a technique that makes it possible to apply model-checking to requirements specifications that cover large input domains and that include nondeterminism. (Recommended by Shaoying Liu.)


Self-Plagiarism is Not a Thing

I’ve been ranting on ethics and plagiarism for awhile, both here and elsewhere [1, 2]. I have been plagiarized [3, 4], I have been accused of plagiarizing (although I did not!), and I deal with plagiarism cases regularly as reviewer and editor. I also speak about ethics in publishing to PhD students and young faculty at my university. This is a short contrary rant—there is no such thing as self plagiarism!

One of my colleagues recently complained on Facebook about a reviewer who wanted to reject a paper because it contained “self plagiarism.” Since I was originally educated as a mathematician, I did what all mathematicians do first: started with definitions. Below are three definitions for plagiarism (all properly quoted and with sources given, by the way):

The definition of plagiarism makes it quite simple ... copying from ourselves is not plagiarism. We are not using “someone else’s” words or ideas. We are using our own. There could be a copyright problem, depending on who owns the copyright for the paper. But that’s very different from plagiarism and not usually something reviewers check.

There is not much gray area on this topic, but I did find one. I will avoid using names, and just use initials for this example. ‘A’ & ‘O’ wrote a paper together. O then reused a related work paragraph in another paper with another co-author, ‘L.’ Later, L reused the same paragraph in a draft of a single-author paper. Despite a long talk, A and O could not decide if that secondary reuse was okay, or if it amounted to “transitive plagiarism.” Clearly, L had not written the paragraph originally, but by reusing it in a paper with L, O had in some sense given credit to L for the paragraph. In the end, we decided to avoid risk and had L rewrite the questionable paragraph.

Back to the original question, we are certainly allowed to reuse our own words. So let’s all say this one last time together: “self-plagiarism.” Now, please, never say it again. It’s not a thing.

Now let’s get back to the important issue about reviewing: is the research sound?

[1] Jeff Offutt. Plagiarism Is For Losers (Editorial), Wiley’s journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 25(1), January 2015.

[2] Jeff Offutt. Who Is An Author? (Editorial), Wiley’s journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 25(2), March 2015.

[3] Jeff Offutt. Do We Need to Teach Ethics to PhD Students? (Editorial), Wiley’s journal of Software Testing, Verification, and Reliability, 28(1), January 2018.

[4] Alison McCook. Meet the scientist whose ideas were stolen at least three times, Retraction Watch, January 2018.

Jeff Offutt
George Mason University
25 January 2018