Distortion of facts is as serious as plagiarism but often taken lightly in the Malaysian academia circle

MORE often than not, cheating in the academia is often associated with plagiarism which essentially means using the work of others as your own without acknowledgment.

Plagiarism can range from misappropriating the work of others to lesser forms of not acknowledging the sources. There are other forms of academic crime such as distortion facts and misinformation.

Recently, the former president of Harvard University Claudine Gay was told to resign because of the allegations of plagiarism. There was other factor such as lack of the university’s effective response to anti-Semitism in the campus for Gay’s resignation.

A US congressional inquiry was dissatisfied with her response on steps taken to address the phenomenon of anti-Semitism. The former president is an Afro-American black woman with outstanding academic achievements.

Pic credit: LogoMyWay

Her crime was not blatant plagiarism but for omitting to give sources of data in her publications. Even Harvard had cleared her in the first round of internal inquiry.

Stringent standards

Plagiarism is a serious issue in the universities in Malaysia. But we seldom hear of universities taking disciplinary action against academics. When I was a lecturer in a public university, there was case of an academic who had plagiarised his publications.

The most the university did was to freeze his academic promotions. Universities might not admit the seriousness of the plagiarism issue but it exists like an elephant in the room.

If the Harvard University standards are applied to our local universities, there will be many academic casualties. Because plagiarism is not checked, it has seeped into academic work of students.

Plagiarism is not only an academic crime in the academia for there are also crimes associated with the distortion of facts and figures.

The publication of a maritime peer reviewed article by two academics of a local university has brought to fore the accuracy of historical data. The identification of the image of a maritime ship (jong) as that of the Malay Archipelago turned out to be a contentious issue.

A French historian pointed out that the identified jong was a Foochow pole jong and not native to Southeast Asia or the Malay World. He also noted that references for the jong image was not from the Maritime Museum of Jakarta but from the Royal Museum of Greenwich in England.

Moreover, the galleys were more connected to the arrival of the Portuguese rather than they had been part of the Malay world. The university authorities are investigating the matter which they have acknowledged as something serious.

At the same time, however, the spokesperson of the university contended that research and publications in the social sciences are often subject to interpretations. Yes, in certain grey areas of historical and social inquiry, interpretations cannot be avoided.

Point of contention

However, if article published contains an image of a jong that was wrongly identified as belonging to the maritime Southeast Asian history, then there is cause of concern.

Perhaps more intensive research on the part of the academicians could have prevented them from wrongly assigning the identity of the ancient ship of jong.

Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy

Ancient history is a difficult subject matter that requires in-depth research. The tendency to interpret events and objects to cater for an ideological or political perspective must be avoided.

Years back, I was involved in organising an international conference in Singapore on the Chola Voyages at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

Before I could insert an example of Chola ship that existed 1,000 years ago, I asked a French academic (who was in Singapore at that time) whether he could identify a Chola ship. He said that it was possible although there was no available evidence of an image of a Chola ship.

By consulting with a renowned expert on the maritime history of Southeast Asia, I avoided the later embarrassment of identifying the wrong ship.

The two academics probably made an error in wrongly identifying the image of the jong as belonging to Southeast Asia rather than a Foochow jong of China.

The article in question might have been peer reviewed but on ancient history, there is need for specialised knowledge – knowledge that might not be available to the peers. – Jan 24, 2024


Former DAP stalwart and Penang chief minister II Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is chairman of the Urimai (United Rights of Malaysian Party) Interim Council.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

Main pic credit: Research Guide – LibGuides

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