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Healthcare: plagiarism and expertise

Sir Isaac Newton said he saw further than others by "standing on ye shoulders of giants" thereby acknowledging his sources and influences. Celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud seems to have attempted an easier ascent by using ye copy and paste on the published work of others without such clear acknowledgment.

The UK General Medical Council found Dr. Persaud had behaved dishonestly and had undermined public confidence in the profession. Some examples of his plagiarism are at the bottom of this article.

But giving Dr. Persaud a kicking is not on my mind. I am more interested in the reaction to the GMC's decision.

The UK media are notorious for building up celebrities only to bring them crashing down. However, in this case the journalists seem to have wriggled uneasily in their ergonomic chairs. A web search will reveal the majority of the coverage is ambivalent, many journalists and others trying to deflect the debate by saying what a good chap Dr. Persaud is and that blatant plagiarism does not mean he is not a good doctor. Fair enough, but let's stay on topic, guys.

In the main, journalists earn expert status vicariously. It takes about 10 years of intensive work to be considered an expert in a field, and few journalists--particularly in healthcare IT--have that experience. Hence, we get the phenomemon of journalists interviewing other journalists, who are meant to be experts but in reality have a superficial understanding of their subject. It is no longer necessary to invest 10 years to be considered an expert. A few hours of web searching and mugging up can give that impression without the hard graft.

Comments allegedly made by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan encapsulate my area of concern. It was on their TV programme--which considers itself qualified to comment on life, the universe and everything--that Dr.Persaud first came to media prominence. They have stated they wish to continue working with Dr. Persaud. So it seems professional honesty comes second to presentation skill. Is the Internet taking us to a form of celebrity medicine where the ignorant are led by the superficially informed?


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I recently pointed out to the Health Service Journal that a senior member of the NHS Institute appeared to be using unacknowledged direct quotes frequently in columns written for them. The HSJ appeared unconcerned, claiming that as a non-academic journal they could tolerate this kind of thing, even from a body that is supposedly in the research business. Yet in spite of saying that it did not matter, I note that the author now routinely includes both quotation marks and clear links ..."as Dr X has recently shown.." suggesting that there was a problem and that it needed fixing. But why not come clean and ask their readers to decide? Why should management experts on the NHS be treated differently from doctors?

Thanks for this interesting comment.

I do not think that management experts should be treated differently and if they make direct quotations they should attribute their sources.

I cannot comment on the specific case you refer to, but I think it is unfortunate that easy information exchange risks transforming us into an information rich, wisdom poor society.

If you have drawn new insights from existing material then why conceal it? After all this is the essence of science and anyway few insights are new to world, most are derivative.

Someone who conceals their sources is also likely to be trying to conceal the paucity of their own thinking.

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