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[CAIRO] Iranian professors around the world have signed a petition urging their peers in Iran to end the practice of plagiarism.

The petition was organised by Professors against Plagiarism, a blog begun last year by a group of Iranian academics to unite university colleagues to combat the problem.

It is a response to controversy generated after Nature drew attention to a paper allegedly containing plagiarised material, co-authored by Kamran Daneshjou, Iran's newly appointed science and education minister.

The journal said there were several instances in the Iranian paper where the text duplicated a paper published by South Korean researchers in 2002. The study has been retracted by the journal Engineering with Computers, where it was published.

Since then, two more journals, the Journal of Mechanical Science and Technology and the Taiwanese Journal of Mechanics, have said they will retract papers co-authored by Daneshjou on the grounds of plagiarism. And Liberation, the French newspaper, has presented evidence of plagiarism in a paper co-authored by Hamid Behbahani, Iran's transport minister.

These events, along with other charges of plagiarism in Iran's academic community last year, have led to calls from within and outside Iran to fight the practice.

Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in the United States, and one of the signatories of the petition, told SciDev.Net that the call is "a demand that academic freedom and scholarly principles not be endangered by or sacrificed to external pressure and political interference".

Iranian professor Muhammad Sahimi, a chemical engineer at the University of Southern California, says that the vast majority of Iranian scientists conduct high quality research under the most difficult conditions, noting that "the few cases of plagiarism that have been discovered were committed by hardliners who want only to present themselves as scientists".

But Davood Rahni, professor of chemistry at US-based Pace University, expressed concern that the plagiarism cases are potentially only "the tip of the iceberg".

"The problem is much more ubiquitous than we or our peers back in Iran may wish to admit at this critical juncture," he told SciDev.Net.

For the academic community within Iran, feelings are mixed. Some feel that Western media are using the situation to launch a political attack against the scientific community in Iran.

"There are plenty of plagiarised papers out there," says Ali Karami, associate professor of molecular biology at Baqiyatallah University of Medical Science, Iran. "Why isn't the Western media focusing on them?"

Additional reporting by Wagdy Sawahel.

Link to petition