A few weeks ago, one of the Editors at iMedicalApps, Tim Aungst, highlighted some of the issues regarding plagiarism in medical reference apps.

He highlighted a recent case in the BMJ where three doctors were accused of plagiarizing the Doctor’s Guide to Critical Appraisal. The app was called Critical APPraisal, and was released in July 2011.

Since then the three doctors have been cleared of plagiarism by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service. The regulatory panel rejected the charges based on the opinion of the doctors’ expert witness who claimed  that the subject matter of critical appraisal was widely known and used in the medical profession and that differences between the book and the app were sufficient to acquit the app’s developers of the charge of plagiarism.

According to the BMJ, the GMC, “did not subject the two works to electronic scrutiny” which is concerning given the complaint came from Gurpal Gosall, the coauthor of the book [which had been accused of plagiarism].

While the main case of plagiarism was thrown out, there were further charges of dishonesty for two of the doctors involved. These doctors were posting favorable reviews of the app on the Apple iTunes Store to encourage people to buy it, without disclosing that they were co-developers and had a financial interest in the app.

The panel found one of these two doctors conduct  in posting the review was misleading and dishonest; however, this was below the level that would constitute impairment of his fitness to practice. They decided not to issue a formal warning. The dishonesty case against the other doctor was concluded without any findings.

According to the doctors involved:

“Like the sword of Damocles this case has been hanging over our heads for two years. The GMC’s evidence was based solely on a complaint brought forward by a party who had a clear interest in the outcome. The GMC prosecution failed to follow the standard guidelines and protocols when assessing plagiarism, such that a university or publisher would use.

“This is not just a victory for us but for the free and open distribution of scientific ideas. The iPhone app Critical APPraisal will be relaunching very soon.”

Source: BMJ 2013;347:f5774