John Cage once said, "I have nothing to say, and I'm saying it." Well, I have very little to say about this issue (and much of it is derivative, anyway):
First, what Rahul said.
The apology issued by Prof. C.N.R. Rao (and his co-authors) is a newsworthy event only because of who he is. Otherwise, there's absolutely no news here.
G. Mudur's a report in today's Telegraph is about the most measured and least sensationalist you'll find [Disclosure: I am one of the people quoted in it; so is Rahul]. Here's a key section from his report:
A PhD student at the IISc who is among the paper’s four co-authors had copied the four sentences without realising it was wrong to do so, Krupanidhi told The Telegraph. “It was an oversight, but it should not have happened,” he said.
“We apologised to the original paper’s authors and offered to withdraw our paper from the journal when we learnt that this had happened. But the journal’s editors decided to retain the paper as the transgression was minor,” Krupanidhi said.
Prof. Rohini Muthuswami (School of Life Sciences, JNU) gave a very nice talk at the Workshop on Academic Ethics held last July in the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai. Her talk was about why students resort to plagiarism in their written work. As I recall, she dealt with two causes at length:
Lack of awareness: Many students don't even know what all the fuss is about. They are conditioned by their prior experiences: at school and college, they were rewarded for answers that are verbatim reproduction of material in text books. Similarly, they were encouraged to find data, text, pictures from various sources and pass them off as their own [anyone who has seen students demonstrating some experiment or the other at a science fair would know what I'm talking about].
When they get to grad school, they have a lot of unlearning to do; to their credit, most of them (especially those in research-active groups) go through this process without too much of a hitch, and manage to learn -- by themselves, through osmosis from their peers, or through a formal training program -- the key ethical principles that rule the scientific enterprise.
Lack of language skills: Many students have done their schooling (and in a few cases, their college, too) in their own language, and simply lack the required level of writing skills in English. While a lot of emphasis is given in grad school on oral communication (talks at group meetings, for example), explicit training in writing is not formalized. Prof. Muthuswami suggested remedial English classes (where necessary), and lots of writing assignments in courses to help them develop confidence in their own ability to express themselves in written English.
I do not want to sound all sour about the students here. As I said, most students in research-active groups do manage the transition rather well. The real trick is in figuring out how to go from "most students" to "all students".
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Update: Added links to the Workshop on Academic Ethics and to the abstract of Prof. Muthuswami's talk.
UPdate 2: For the record, here are the reporters who have written their stories after talking to real persons with real names: Aishhwariya Subramanian (DNA), Kalyan Ray (Deccan Herald), Divya Gandhi (The Hindu), and of course, G. Mudur (The Telegraph)