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MSU Investigating Charges of Researcher Plagiarism

See related story: Experts Analyze the Trouble With Plagiarism

Michigan State University professor Sharif Shakrani was read an expert's quote that appeared on the eighth page of his study the Mackinac Center says appears to be plagiarized.

Shakrani said he got the two-sentence quote through his research online. But the study doesn't say where he found that quote.

The two-sentence quote was part of more than 300 words that appear to have been taken virtually word-for-word from a March 22, 2010, article entitled, "Still too many schools?"

Except for a few very minor alterations, a three-paragraph chunk of the piece appeared in the MSU study. Some examples of the minor changes included the word "the" being eliminated from one sentence. The word "can't" was changed to "cannot" inside the unattributed two-sentence quotation from the expert. 

Shakrani, a senior scholar at the Education Policy Center who once served as the co-director, was asked where he got that quote.

"It was found in more than one report," Shakrani said, adding he got it while researching online.

Shakrani then said he made the proper attribution by putting it quotations.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy's Michael Van Beek uncovered the alleged plagiarism with the aid of software that finds evidence of plagiarism.

Van Beek estimated as much as 30 percent of the text appears to be plagiarized, although he said Thursday he was finding more potentially plagiarized sections that the software missed.

Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center, said "plagiarism is a very serious issue" in academia.

Floden noted there were places with "very similar language" in the study. "We are trying to see where this came about."

Floden said Shakrani is working on coming up with attribution for some of the language that is similar in the study.

"We are looking into what happened and what to make of this," Floden said, adding he had no set timetable. He said he became aware of the Mackinac Center's discoveries late Wednesday night.

In some parts of the study, it was just a sentence or two that matched other works.

For example, this appeared in a Syracuse University report by Matthew Andrews, William Duncombe and John Yinger: 

"In contrast, more recent research on student performance in schools indicates that small may be beautiful. 'All else held equal, small schools have evident advantages for achievement, at least among disadvantage students.' (Howley, 1996, p.1)."

A slightly altered version of that ran in the MSU study:

"Some recent research on student performance at the school (not district) level indicates that 'small may be beautiful.' Small high schools have evident advantages for achievement, at least among disadvantage students."

Not only are the paragraphs similar, but where Duncombe, Yinger and Andrews included an attribution to a previous study, Shakrani used virtually the same text, but omitted the attribution.

Duncombe said he wouldn't comment on the MSU study because he hadn't read it and wasn't aware of the claims of plagiarism.

"Obviously as an academic, I don't like plagiarism," Duncombe said "I give a lecture on plagiarism. I'm blunt when I talk to students. I tell them, 'You are being intellectually lazy. You are not doing the work yourself because you don't want to spend the time to reframe it yourself. If that is true, you probably don't understand it that well.' I would say to students, 'You are not engaging the material, otherwise you would not need to do this.'"


See also:

Experts Analyze the Trouble With Plagiarism

Possible Plagiarism in MSU/Newspaper Report on School Consolidation

School Consolidation Is No 'Silver Bullet'