A Lesson in Plagiarising

I recently took up a teaching post in Ranchi as visiting faculty at the Department of Rural Management, Xavier Institute of Social Service. In the first assignment to my class, I noticed that all the students were ‘cutting and pasting’ without proper citation and referencing. Seeing an article in The Hindu, I discussed with the directors and my colleagues on the need for correct citation and referencing to check plagiarism. To this end, we plan a training session in May this year for faculty members, and to create a set of ethical guidelines for the institute’s students and faculty.

In March, a book-distributor came to my office. He left 43 books for me to browse through with the hope that I’d select some of them for our library. One of the books, Basics of Economic Geography by a professor at the University of Calcutta and published in 2015 by Concept Publishing Company, caught my eye. I checked its cover and contents and saw that halfway through it contained a sub-section (3.13) titled ‘World Agricultural System – Agri-business’. I’d been given a paper to teach on agribusiness management and so thought that by checking this sub-section, I’d be able to evaluate the book’s worth.

I began reading. “The issue of the global concentration of agribusiness is crucial to the future of the food systems of developing (and poor, non-developing) countries. These countries have been a target of corporate investments from the outset of the industrial food system…” The text seemed strangely familiar. I’d given this text to my students to read in January as part of an assessment. These are the opening sentences of an article by John Wilkinson in a 2009 issue (volume 61, issue 4) of Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine. Titled ‘The Globalization of Agribusiness and Developing World Food Systems’, his essay looks at the concentration of global agro-food systems drawing on China and Brazil as his main examples.

To my surprise, pages 55 to 62 of the book reproduces Wilkinson’s article word for word, omitting just two sections (on Brazil and the conclusion). Wilkinson’s name is not mentioned either at the beginning or end of the sub-section or in the book’s bibliography. I was shocked and emailed the publisher.

The Concept Publishing Company claims on its website to be ‘India’s Leading Social Science Publisher’. I wrote to the publisher on March 15. An S.P. Sinha replied in 30 minutes: “Thank you very much for your email. We appreciate your efforts and concern and forwarding your mail to Prof. … to get her point of views. We will communicate you soon we receive her reply.” It turned out Sinha had actually forwarded my original email, which included my full signature, to the professor. There is still no response from her side or from the publisher. On April 7, I wrote to Sinha at Concept once more, noting that the book in question is still prominently displayed on the publisher’s home page and objecting to his forwarding my personal details to the book’s author.

As of April 11, Concept is still showcasing her book on their home page. My students have now graduated, having learned (the hard way) in a short trimester how to properly cite and reference material.