Friday, June 26, 2015

Court decisions rolling in

There are quite a number of court decisions being handed down recently in Germany on academic misconduct cases. I have three new addition to my list today:
  1. The Bundesverwaltungsgericht, the Federal Administrative Court in Germany handed down an important decision in connection with the plagiarism case of former defense minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The German parliamentary academic service had written documents for him that turned up in his dissertation, verbatim. A journalist filed a freedom of information order to obtain the documents, but the Bundestag refused. Of course, a copy of the documents had already turned up in a brown paper envelope addressed to one of the GuttenPlag Wiki researchers, bearing no return address, and they were already documented. But it was impossible to verify if the documents were correct. The journalist wanted to see if the copies were, indeed true. He worked his way through the lower courts, who rejected his suit to see the documents. Today the federal court ruled that any document prepared by the academic service is obtainable by FOI request. Within hours the first FOI application for a list of all such documents was filed. The newspaper that filed suit, Die Welt, reports on its success.
  2. The Leipziger Volkszeitung reports that VroniPlag Wiki case #8 Sh (documented in 2011) has now been decided by the court (VG Halle) in favor of the University of Halle-Wittenberg, who rescinded the thesis in April 2012. The court held with the university, which stated that the "technical deficiencies" (handwerkliche Mängel) were so numerous that they became the methodology and thus intent to deceive.
  3. A colleague dug out a decision by the VG Würzburg from 25 March 2015 (AZ: W 2 K 14.228) about a doctorate in dental medicine that was awarded at the University of Würzburg in 2001 in the area of the history of medicine. In 2011 an anonymous letter informed the university that this dissertation was a plagiarism of a dissertation submitted in 1999, and that that one had been written by the doctoral adviser himself, as had many others. The university rescinded the doctorate in 2012. The dentist sued the university on numerous grounds, such as the statute of limitations having run out and all sorts of detailed university administrative details not having been attended to properly. The court ruled that the plagiarism was enough for proving intent to deceive, and also listing 199 sources in her literature list where she only quoted 67 served only to inflate the appearance of scholarship and was also to be considered intent to deceive. The text of the decision is not publicly available but can be found using the case number in legal databases.
So as in the plagiarism case against Schavan, the courts appear to be doing a great job of upholding good scientific practice. They stand by the decisions of the university, no matter what the paladins spout in the media.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dr. Hoss Cartwright

Yes, indeed. The older, or shall I say, more experienced of my readers will fondly remember Hoss Cartwright, of Bonanza fame. A German blogger, Fefe, pointed me in the direction of an article in the Laborjournal blog from March 2015 that I completely missed.

Burkhard Morgenstern is a professor for Bioinformatics in Göttingen, Germany. He apparently got fed up with all the spam solicitations for articles for the many junk journals, that he decided to get back at them. He spammed 20-30 journals (some even in open CC) with a short letter from Dr. Hoss Cartwright, requesting to join the editorial board of "your exciting journal".

Request to join editorial board
About a week later Hoss was welcomed to the board, with apologies for the late response:

Happy to have you
They even put his CV on the page, apparently without reading it. Morgenstern documented it with a screenshot. The CV has since been removed from the page, although the Internet Archive still has a link to a snapshot of the listing with Hoss on the board.
Best CV I've seen in a long time
I contacted Prof. Morgenstern and he noted that he had done a similar thing some years back with another OMICS journal. At that time he managed to get the fictional "Peter Uhnemann", a fake person invented by the German satirical magazine Titanic, on board the journal "Molecular Biology."  Jonathan Eisen's blog The Tree of Life gives details of this scam of the spammers.

If these journals are so careless in putting together their editorial boards, one wonders about the quality of the peer review done for the journals. OMICS had a bit of a spat with the National Institute of Health (lawyer's letter can be read here)  and is now forbidden from suggesting that they are listed on PubMed Central or on PubMed. OMICS appears, however,  to be purchasing journals that are still listed on the databases, according to ScholarlyOA, in order to get around this.

Another attempt to get listed on PubMed Central appears to be to have the authors submit an "author manuscript" to PMC, as NIH-funded researchers are now required to do. When their paper is published, then a link to the OMICS journal article is added. The journal article now also includes a link back to PubMed. Here is one of many examples: Author manuscript at PubMed Central, put in PMC on 2015-02-23 and then received by OMICS two days later and published 2015-03-21.    

Perhaps it is time to teach people that PubMed is an index and not a mark of quality. One must still read and evaluate the papers.

Update:  Dr. Hoss has now been accepted for the editorial board of Pak Publishing Group's "International Journal of Veterinary Sciences Research":
Dr. Hoss accepted as editor for another journal

Saturday, May 16, 2015

576 Swedish students caught cheating in 2014

The Swedish news agency TT reported in March 2015 on the number of students caught cheating in the past year, according to the daily newspaper Expressen: 576, an increase of 50 over 2013. This is the number of students who were found guilty of cheating and sentenced to a lock-out from the university for between one week and six months. There are 28 universities and colleges in Sweden, the largest universities (Lund, Stockholm) also had the largest number of cheating students, 62 and 60. With 47,700 and almost 67,000 students enrolled, this number is quite small. These are the cases, however, that were brought before disciplinary boards, so they will have been quite critical cases. The minister of higher education and research points out in the article that cheating rather defeats the point of a higher education: to learn how to do something oneself.

A lock-out of even a week can be critical if that week happens to be an exam week. Sweden has a good system for financing students. They get a weekly allowance, a bit they can keep, the rest is a loan. In order to get the financing for the next semester, they have to pass enough courses. If they aren't able to take exams, they don't pass and thus can't get the student loans for the next semester.

Do other countries have national numbers on students caught cheating? I know Germany doesn't. I would appreciate pointers to other countries who publish such numbers. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The end of a long plagiarism case

One of the first cases that was documented by the German plagiarism documentation community VroniPlag Wiki in 2011 was the doctorate of a German politician, Jürgen Goldschmidt, the mayor of a town in the Lausitz. In addition to extensive amounts of text overlap, there was a quite strange use of primary sources used in the thesis (documented in German under Befunde). Some examples:
  • "Tagesschau vom 02.12.2004" (p. 42)
  • "Super Illu 17/2005" (p. 45)
  • "WDR vom 24.03.2007" (p. 51)
  • "Pressemitteilung der Bundesregierung, 2008" (p. 67)
  • "Studie im Auftrag des vdw Niedersachsen/Bremen 2002" (p. 71)
Tagesschau is the nightly news, the Super Illu is a tabloid magazine, not generally an academic source for population data. Interestingly, the tabloid itself gives their source for the data: the national statistics board, Statistisches Bundesamt.
CC-BY-SA VroniPlag Wiki
In January 2013, the TU announced that they were not retracting the doctorate, but requesting that Goldschmidt submit a new, properly referenced version of the thesis. This was rather odd, as authors who reuse texts of others, including the Wikipedia, without referencing them can generally not be assumed to have kept track of which texts they took from where. Goldschmidt was given six months to submit an updated version of the thesis. In August 2013 the press secretary assured me that the new version was submitted and was being examined. During 2014 I bugged the TU a few times, asking if they were making any progress and offering assistance, as VroniPlag Wiki had additional material that was not yet documented. They declined, but were working on it.

The press secretary of the TU Berlin put out a press announcement today:
Jürgen Goldschmidt hatte an der Fakultät VI Planen Bauen Umwelt der TU Berlin die Dissertation „Management des Stadtumbaus unter Berücksichtigung der städtebaulichen Rahmenbedingungen“ im Dezember 2009 verteidigt. Im April 2010 bekam er die Urkunde überreicht, mit der der akademische Grad „Doktor der Ingenieurwissenschaften“ verliehen wird. Im Sommer 2011 wurden Plagiatsvorwürfe öffentlich.
Daraufhin gab es ein Verwaltungsverfahren zur Prüfung der Vorwürfe. Herr Goldschmidt erfüllte die von der Universität erteilte Auflage nicht, sodass in Konsequenz ihm der Doktortitel entzogen worden wäre.
Am 7. Mai 2015 hat Jürgen Goldschmidt seinen Doktorgrad inklusive seiner Urkunde an die TU Berlin zurückgegeben.
[Jürgen Goldschmidt defended the dissertation "..." to Faculty VI Planning Construction Environment of the TU Berlin in November 2009. He was given the certificate in April of 2010 that gave him the degree of "Doctor of Engineering". In the summer of 2011 accusations of plagiarism were made public.
As a result of this, an administrative process was initiated to examine the accusations. Mr. Goldschmidt did not fulfill the conditions that were imposed by the university, thus the doctoral degree would have been rescinded. On May 7, 2015 Jürgen Goldschmidt returned his degree and the certificate to the TU Berlin. -- translation dww]
This is a new method of resolving a case of plagiarism: faced with extensive evidence that would lead to the degree being rescinded, the person in question returns the degree. It is perhaps legally questionable if a degree that is conferred by a faculty can be returned by the conferee. But that is perhaps moot, as the university has now brought a case to a close that has been open for over 3 1/2 years.

Additionally, it was discovered that the second case that was reported to the TU Berlin, Aos, has been similarly resolved as of April 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Current publications

Two links for those who read German:
  • I wrote an article for Forschung & Lehre together with my colleague Gerhard Dannemann about the universities in Germany rather dragging their feet when being informed of plagiarism cases in doctorates : Viel Licht und noch mehr Schatten.
  • The philosopher Theodor Ebert wrote a review of my book "False Feathers" for the FAZ: Fälschen ohne Folgen. In the print version the article was entitled Wer das Schweigen bricht, macht sich schuldig

Saturday, April 4, 2015

More on Brazilian science

I have been sent some interesting links recently about problems in Brazilian academia. 
  • Mauricio Tuffani, a journalist with Folha de S. Paulo, a Brazilian daily newspaper, has been publishing on some troubling situations in Brazilian academia. I just  blogged about an article he wrote about the government recommending mock conferences. He has written about academics inflating their CVs with conference papers given at a Chinese conference now appearing as peer-reviewed journal articles (one even already published in December 2015 [that is, 8 months in the future]) and the triennial report ranking graduate study institutions includes thousands of articles published by Brazilian academics in 201 predatory journals from 11 publishers. He lists the journals here. After he revealed that the Pakistani publisher of a predatory journal that also practices future publishing was not, in fact, a professor, the name disappeared from the web page. He reports on the deafening silence that can be heard from Brazilian academia here.
  • Retraction watch reports on retractions of a number of chemistry papers from a Brazilian journal.
  • The editor of the journal of the  Instituto Israelita de Ensino e Pesquisa Albert Einstein [Einstein (Sao Paulo). 2014 Oct-Dec;12(4):vii-viii. doi: 10.1590/S1679-45082014ED3296.] writes in an editorial entitled Scientific Misconduct - Our first (known) case:
    A recent paper by Lins and Carvalho (2) analyzed scientific misconduct in Brazil. They found a clear increase in both published articles in the medical literature and cases of scientific misconduct, including irreproducible results, “scientific salami slicing” (one article fragmented into 10 or more papers) and duplicate publications. In Lins and Carvalho’s opinion, the increased number of Brazilian scientific productions in medical literature was not accompanied by an increase in quality of articles – just the opposite. The authors discuss the focus of Brazilian institutional review boards in patient safety, within institutions themselves and the Brazilian National Review Board. Neither group performs a systematic surveillance for research integrity, and no specific offices exist to investigate and deal with scientific misconduct.
    (2) Lins L, Carvalho FM. Scientific integrity in Brazil. J Bioeth Inq. 2014;11(3):283-7.

Brazilian Government recommends mock conference

I have been made aware of the following article by Mauricio Tuffani in online version of the Brazilian daily newpaper Folha de S. Paulo: "Eventos científicos "caça-níqueis" preocupam cientistas brasileiros" (Scientific event cares about Brazilian scientists). The article is discussing (as far as I can puzzle out with Google Translate) the WASET multiconference to be held in Rio de Janiero in February 2016. Not one, not ten, but 116 simultaneous scientific meetings are planned to be held in a hotel there. Registration is already open, with rates of up to 450 € for speakers (250 € for listeners only), with a special deal of only 100 € more for an additional paper. 

The conference is organized by a publisher, WASET, that is on Jeffrey Beale's list of predatory publishers. A number of universities world-wide warn their academics from submitting to these conferences. Not the Brazilian government, though, according to Folha de S. Paulo: CAPES, the Higher Education Personnel Training Coordination body of the Brazilian Ministry of Education includes these conferences on their online platform Qualis. This is a list of periodicals and conferences that researchers are recommended for choosing to publish their research, as promotion and tenure depends, as it does so many places, on the number of published articles and conference presentations, not the quality. 

The conference advertises about how well-indexed their conferences are. For example, they say that they are indexed with the "International Science Index".  Since one of the largest citation databases in the world, the Web of Science, is known as the ISI index (Institute of Information Science), careless academics could easily jump to the conclusion that this conference is indexed at ISI.

Folha de S. Paulo was unable to get researchers to speak about this on the record, except for an ecologist from Sorocaba. His name is listed as being a member of the scientific committee of one of the 116 events, the "14th International Conference of Geophysics and Environmental Engineering". He was very surprised to hear that he was named here, he did not know the conference and stated that he will take steps to have his name removed from the conference web site.

Folha de S. Paulo asked WASET for comment, but there was no response. The journal notes that the company is listed as being in Riverside, California, USA, but the phone contact is in the United Arab Emirates and they say that the ISSN records for the publication list them as being from Turkey. I was not able to find an ISSN number given on the web pages of this multiconference, so I wasn't able to verify that it is indeed listed in Turkey and in the Qualis database.


Looking closer at the web site of WASET [I won't link here for obvious reasons] it is quite easy to see how this operation works. There are multiconferences being held ever week in a choice of international locations: Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Auckland, Taipei, Bali, Dubai, Singapore, London. Conferences are planned up to and including 2027. Inspecting the link for Rio in February there are, indeed, conferences in 23 categories with varying numbers of individual conferences that all sound similar: International Conference on ..... (fill in the blank). All will take place at the same hotel, which only, according to their web page, has 35 meeting rooms.

The text on the conference pages is boilerplate, identical except for a few subject areas changed to fit the title of the conference. There is one month given as the time for the peer review by three reviewers. Some of the conference committees are identical for different conferences, sometimes they are different. Not all of the institutions the persons are affiliated with are decodable. The conference photos for the conferences are all the same. If you put this URL into Google's image search, you find it listed as a photo for conferences in Paris, Quebec, London, New York, and San Francisco. One attendee uses it in a university newspaper and identifies herself in the picture, noting that the conference was held in Osaka.

It is high time that universities and research institutions stop using quantitative measures for academic decisions. Predatory publishers and mock conference organizers have perverted the ideas of academic exchange and communication that existed previously and flooded the market with lookalikes. The German research council, DFG, took a step in the right direction in 2010 when they began to base funding decisions not on quantity, but on quality of the research. A researcher can only submit his or her best five publications in applying for grant money, and can only list two publications per year in grant reporting. They also refuse to accept any publication listed as "in press", as some researchers were being quite creative and referring to "in press publications" that hadn't yet been submitted.

Now how do we get the word out to the rest of the world and dry up the funding that is feeding this mock science machine?