Sunday, December 5, 2010

German Research Funding Organization Reprimands Researchers

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), one of the largest research grant organizations in Germany, has officially reprimanded four researchers.
  1. Dr. Armin Heils published a study about Epilepsy in "Nature Genetics" in 2003 in which he supposedly proved that certain genetic mutations caused epilepsy. Internal investigations revealed in 2007 that the study was based on incorrect data. Heils was the only one of 24 authors of the paper unwilling to withdraw the publication. Since the research was funded by the DFG, he is prohibited from applying for money for the next 3 years.
  2. A manuscript that had been accepted for print turned out to have fabricated data. The unnamed researcher is prohibited from applying for money for the next 5 years, in particular because this was a senior scientist.
  3. An applicant gave incorrect data about the current state of publications (submitted, accepted, in print) for an application for funding. The researcher was given a written reprimand.
  4. The fourth case is a plagiarism case - an application for funding contained passages from other sources that were not quoted. Since the passages applied to the core of the research, it was considered serious. The applicant tried to explain that the plagiarism was due to the passages being written by students, but the DFG does not accept this as an excuse, the applicant is responsible for the text, and thus this researcher was also given a written reprimand.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Blog of Retractions

[Thanks to a correspondent for the link!]

A new blog, Retraction Watch, written by two medical journal editors, links to and comments on retractions of papers from scientific journals. The blog started in August 2010 and has some interesting cases reported, including a number of plagiarisms that have been retracted. There is also a link to a glossary of retractions from The Scientist, 2007, explaining the sanctions from a correspondence to a retraction without permission.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Anniversary Book Withdrawn

The Tagesspiegel reports this morning on a withdrawn book.

The prestigious Berlin university medical center Charité is celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2010. In honor of the occasion they put out a book about their history, and commissioned a journalist, Falko Hennig, to assist in producing the volume.

The historian of medicine, Philipp Osten, was looking forward to the book and immediately opened it to the chapter on orthopedics, his specialty. There he discovered about 8 pages lifted from his own book, Die Modellanstalt, without permission and with a different author listed.

He contacted the editors and the publisher, who immediately investigated the allegations. They soon found more plagiarism by Hennig in other chapters, and so they have decided to withdraw the book. The publishers are suing Hennig.

Update: Spiegel Online reports that the Charité's own medical history department did not want to produce such a book. The supposed "authors" of the chapter on orthopedics had no idea that they were authors, and the editors are doing a lot of hand-washing, as they were "only" editors. Spiegel Online also reports that Henning is looking for a good intellectual property rights lawyer, as he reports on his Twitter stream.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Research and Progress

During a visit to Sweden I was made aware of this group blog that deals with research. One of the bloggers, retired associate professor in ethics Birgitta Forsman, wrote about scientific misconduct in Sweden.

It seems the government has put forth a new proposition about scientific misconduct. Her major criticism is that much of research today is done outside of universities, and that the local lords have a much too strong influence in the decision about what is worth being researched.

She discusses the STAN study which was published in Lancet. The inventor of a technology that was to be studied (and co-owner of the company that uses the technology and was financing the study) was monitor and responsible for the quality of the study, although he was not listed on the paper.

This is a different kind of scientific misconduct than what has often been linked to here. This is not someone who is not involved in the study putting their name on the paper in order to pad their CV. This is someone who was involved not being listed so that when Lancet asked if any of the authors had any connection to the company whose technology was being investigated, they could all truthfully answer "no".

An investigation into this research deemed it problematic, but not scientific misconduct, begging the question of where exactly scientific misconduct begins.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ghostwriter

I keep trying to explain to people that plagiarism detection systems are helpless when faced with other forms of academic misconduct. In this Chronicle article a reader sends to me a ghostwriter bares all, and the sight is not pretty. Money is exchanged for papers - the college system is broken. Actually, the moral system seems to be in quite a degenerate state:
I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow.
So fellow professors - if you wonder how your incoherent student wrote such a great paper, maybe they didn't.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Copyists, Fakers, Idea Thieves

The German radio station SWR2 broadcast a 30-minute report in German on scientific misconduct on November 10, 2010:  Abschreiber, Fälscher, Ideendiebe.

Interviews with Hans Peter Gumm, Volker Rieble, Ulrike Beisiegel (DFG Ombud for good scientific praxis), Eberhardt Hildt (the whistleblower in the Herrmann/Brack data fabrication case), and yours truely from about 23:00, although the journalist got the name of this blog wrong.

Bush, the Plagiarist

The Huffington Post reports on George Bush's memoirs "Decision Point" - it appears that whoever ghostwrote it prepared a crazy quilt of plagiarisms, including "eyewitness" reports about circumstances that Bush provably did not attend, such as the inauguration of Afghan president Karzai.
Bush "recollects" - in a more literal sense of the term - quotes by pulling his and others verbatim from other books, calling into question what he genuinely remembers from the time and casting doubt on any conclusions he draws about what his mindset was at the time.
Even if we are not awarding Bush a degree for his words, one begins to despair of ever educating people of the difference between writing and copying.

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Free Lunch

Found on a "free essay site":

The next time you see language like this on a paper, it may not be the student writing, but an "excellent" free essay from an essay mill.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Biomedical Text Similarity

Science Daily alerted me to this publication on PLoS
Systematic Characterizations of Text Similarity in Full Text Biomedical Publications
Sun Z,
Errami M, Long T, Renard C, Choradia N, et al. 2010 Systematic Characterizations of Text Similarity in Full Text Biomedical Publications. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12704.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012704
The authors of eTBLAST, a text-similarity search engine, have expanded their work that at first investigated text- and author-similarity on PubMed abstracts (CSP article from 2008). They have now accessed full-text articles to dig deeper into text similarities.

They investigated over 70.000 full papers, and determined that abstract similarity is a good predictor of full text similarity. They caution, however, that the automatic identification of possible cases of plagiarism must be checked by hand to determine if indeed plagiarism is present. They only uncovered 34 highly similar papers, and all were updates or multi-part articles that did indeed share larger sections of text.

However, they note that many of the currently uncovered plagiarized publications, for example in Chile and Peru [1], were translations and these are not included in the PubMed database.

[1] Sources given in the article about the Chilean and Peruvian cases:
  1. Arriola-Quiroz I, Curioso WH, Cruz-Encarnacion M, Gayoso O (2010) Characteristics and publication patterns of theses from a Peruvian medical school. Health Info Libr J 27(2): 148–154. 
  2. Salinas JL, Mayta-Tristan P (2008) [Duplicate publication: a Peruvian case]. Revista de Gastroenterologia del Peru 28: 390–391. 
  3. Rojas-Revoredo V, Huamani C, Mayta-Tristan P (2007) [Plagiarism in undergraduate publications: experiences and recommendations]. Revista Medica de Chile 135: 1087–1088. 
  4. Reyes H, Palma J, Andresen M (2007) [Ethics in articles published in medical journals]. Revista Medica de Chile 135: 529–533.

Advertising and Peer-Review in Medical Journals

The German online news site Telepolis reports in October 2010 about the pharmaceutical company Wyeth, which belongs to the Pfizer concern, hiring a public relations company (DesignWrite) to inject ghostwritten advertising into peer-reviewed articles that appear in closed-access medical journals.

The PR company carefully wrote articles that in diction and appearance seemed to be scientific articles that surveyed the literature on the topic of hormone replacement studies for menopausal women. The surveys downplayed the negative side effects, which include a higher risk of breast cancer, and praised the positive side effects, such as lowering the probability of dementia, of the substances. Later studies have shown that these hormone replacement medicines actually increase the probability of dementia. These surveys were given to researchers, who "edited" the articles and submitted them for publication to peer-reviewed journals.
This blog noted the article published in 2009 in the New York Times. Adriane J. Fugh-Berman, an associate professor for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Georgetown University, has now published her study of the incident in the open-access journal PLoS: The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT”.
Fugh-Berman has published a meticulously linked and documented article that demonstrates the depths of this relationship between the ghostwriters. One sample:
One co-author seemed puzzled by the concept that she was to author, but not write, an article [34]: “From what you have written, I would be more of an ‘editor’ rather than the major writer—that is, you guys would be writing the versions—with me ‘altering, editing, etc.? Is that correct?’” 1This query was in response to an e-mail from Karen Mittleman (a DesignWrite employee who supervised medical writers) that stated: “The beauty of this process is that we become your postdocs! … We provide you with an outline that you review and suggest changes to. We then develop a draft from the final outline. You have complete editorial control of the paper, but we provide you with the materials to review/critique” [34].
This would also suggest that the "normal" way of writing is to have the postdocs do the work and the PI publish the paper. And even when a peer review tried to question a paper, documents show that DesignWrite responded to the reviews (and not the supposed authors), at times scolding the reviewers for misusing the peer-review process! 

Fugh-Bermann summarizes:
Acceptance of ghostwriting, euphemistically termed “editorial assistance,” may be so widespread that it is considered normal. This could explain why several authors of ghostwritten articles have defended their involvement.
As a researcher for complementary and alternative medicine, it is of course to her advantage to demonstrate that what we have considered to be "hard science" in the area of medicine up until now has degenerated into an advertising circus. But her results are not based on just a single case - the list goes on and one. Fugh-Bermann: "Medicine, as a profession, must take responsibility for this situation. Naïveté is no longer an excuse."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science

The Atlantic has an interesting article by David H. Freedman in its November 2010 issue, "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science", about John Ioannidis, one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research.

Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How to prevent scientific misconduct

The Scientist has an opinion piece by Suresh Radhakrishnan on preventing fraud in research. The author was fired as a senior research associate from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for scientific misconduct in May 2010. I find it very good that the author reflects on what caused him to falsify data and to propose solutions for preventing this in the future.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The First Plagiarism of Fall

Ethics blogger Janet Stemwedel has a video message for her plagiarizing students. Maybe this will be something they understand.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Reflection on Plagiarism, Patchwriting, and the Engineering Master's Thesis

The Summer 2010 online issue of "Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship" includes a nice viewpoint by Edward J. Eckel entitled "A Reflection on Plagiarism, Patchwriting, and the Engineering Master's Thesis":
"How many times has a graduate student asked you questions such as the
following: "How many words do I need to change so I'm not plagiarizing?"
or "If my professor gives me his article or patent and tells me to go
ahead and 'use it', do I need to cite it?" Such questions indicate a
profound need for clarification of issues like plagiarism and
attributing sources. This need is a result of a disconnect between
expectations for graduate students in the sciences and technology, and
how they are being educated to meet those expectations. [...]
Rather than focusing on punishment or ethics, we librarians and faculty
members need to teach these students a more realistic view of the
writing process, one that allows and encourages the reuse of generic
strings of text and yet scrupulously attributes the ideas and
distinctive written expressions of other authors."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: Ghosting

Jenny Erdal: Ghosting. A Double Life. Canongate Books, Edinburgh. 2005. German translation: Die Ghostwriterin - Ich war sein Verstand und seine Stimme. Kiepenheuer, Berlin. 2008.

I was given this book a while ago, but have only now gotten around to reading it. It is the biography of Jennie Erdal, a Scottish writer who began translating Russian novels for Naim Attallah, the publisher of
Quartet Books. Over the years she began writing more and more for him, first preparing and then transcribing and editing interviews that he conducted, but finally also writing two novels that were published in his name only.

She describes the slow process by which her boss asks for just a little bit more, he himself still completely convinced that it is all his own work. She begins thinking of quitting after 15-16 years, but she has 3 kids, 2 in college, and a mortgage to pay. The job pays well, and she can work from home, so she continues to write for him, and puts up with his control-freak nature, at times calling her over 40 times a day.

She begins reflecting over what it is that she is doing and I find this paragraph about fraud to be extremely thoughtful. I quote the German version, as that is the one I have before me. A re-translation follows.
"Über den Betrug wird hingegen [im Gegensatz zu Selbstbetrug] sehr viel strenger geurteilt, was angesichts seiner Alltäglichkeit und Allgegenwart fast ebenso merkwürdig ist. Täuschung ist ein fester Bestandteil unseren Alltagslebens, angefangen bei dem höflichen Dank für etwas, das wir lieber von uns weisen würden, bis zur kalkuliertern Lüge, um eine Freundschaft zu erhalten. Sie ist eines unserer Mittel, sich in die Welt einzubringen, und es scheint fast, als hätten die Menschen eine besondere Begabung dafür. Wir betrügen einander, um unsere emotionalen Bindungen zu schützen, gleichzeitig binden wir uns emotional an abstrakte Ideen wie Ruhm oder Macht. Jene, die lügen oder betrügen, haben keine besonderen Kennzeichen; man kann es von außen nicht erkennen, sie sehen aus wie du und ich. Wir alle tragen Masken, einige Masken jedoch wiegen so schwer und werden so lange getragen, dass sie das Gesicht dahinter zu zerstören beginnen." (pp. 253-254)

On the other hand, fraud is judged much more strictly, which, given its ordinariness and ubiquity is almost as remarkable. Deception is an integral component of our everyday life, from the polite gratitude for something we would rather not have, to the calculated lie to keep a friendship. It is one of our resources for participating in the world, and it almost seems as if  people have a special talent for it. We betray each other to protect our emotional bonds, while we bind ourselves emotionally to abstract ideas such as fame or power. Those who lie or cheat bear no special marks, you can not see it from outside, they look like you and me. We all wear masks, but some masks weigh so hard and are borne for so long that they begin to destroy the face behind it. (Re-translation Google Translate and dww)
It is hard to quit, hard to say that a line has been crossed, that one cannot continue with this fraud. I'm sure that many researchers have experienced this same thing. First an assistant prepares some material. Then something is written by an assistant and rewritten by the researcher before publishing. Then under the pressure to publish more and more and more a text gets passed through without change, but the true author is kept hidden, and the researcher does not even find anything wrong with this.

Reading through the reviews there is an often mentioned aspect: here she is, taking his money for 20 years, and now she is betraying him! She is seen as somehow morally deficient for describing him in such intimate detail. She sees herself, however, as a sort of prostitute: From The Guardian, October 23, 2004:   
"Ghost-writing is not new. It might almost qualify as the oldest profession if prostitution had not laid prior claim. And there is more than a random connection between the two: they both operate in rather murky worlds, a fee is agreed in advance and given "for services rendered", and those who admit to being involved, either as client or service-provider, can expect negative reactions - anything from mild shock and disapproval to outright revulsion. A professor at my old university, a distinguished classicist with feminist leanings, was appalled when she heard what I did for a living and pronounced me "no better than a common whore". This - the whiff of whoredom - is perhaps the main reason why people opt for absolute discretion!
I found the book quite interesting, although I still do not understand why an intelligent woman would put up with him, much less with ghostwriting, for so long.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

German Professors Leave Professional Organization

Tagesspiegel reporter Hermann Horstkotte reports that a law professor from the Humboldt University in Berlin, Hans-Peter Schwintowski, has announced that he is leaving the German professional organization of university professors, the Deutscher Hochschulverband.

The reason is that the DHV is considering forcing him out, because his university found that his book Juristischen Methodenlehre did not properly quote the sources used.The DHV feels that this is incompatible with their professional honor code. Schwintowski insists that this was just an oversight that has probably happened to every member of the organization.

Another law professor, Axel Wirth, an expert on building law from the TU Darmstadt, has also announced that he will leave the organization as it is also considering forcing him out because of a commentary that he published under his own name that one of his assistants had secretly plagiarized from another source. Wirth complains that with the organization acting in this way, they are not giving the professors in question their constitutional right of re-socialization after having been found guilty of an offence.

Harvard Professor Guilty of Scientific Misconduct

Kate Shaw writes at arstechnica:
"After a three-year internal investigation by Harvard University, animal cognition researcher Marc Hauser has been found 'solely responsible' for eight counts of scientific misconduct. Since its beginning, the matter has been shrouded in secrecy, with Hauser admitting only to certain 'mistakes.' However, Hauser is now on a one-year leave of absence from Harvard, and in response to the investigation’s findings, the University's Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has vowed to 'determine the sanctions that are appropriate.'" (more)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Articles withdrawn from Open Access Database

I just ran across an article from 2007 about, one of the many Open Access databases, that withdrew 65 papers on General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology by 14 Turkish authors on the basis of the papers containing plagiarized material. One of the authors, a grad student at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, was listed on 40 (!) of the papers.

The papers in question are replaced with a reference that they are plagiarized and the true sources are given. This is extremely important - don't just remove without a trace, but leave a note both of who the plagiarist was and the true source, in case any of the plagiarized versions are referenced elsewhere.

This is one of the advantages of online Open Access - in a printed journal, the retraction appears sometime later. Online, the reference itself can be replaced with the retraction notice, giving credit to the original authors.

Japanese Plagiarism and Misrepresentation Case

A Japanese correspondent has alerted me to the strange case of Serkan Anilir.  He is a German-born researcher of Turkish descent who was said to be an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, Graduate School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo.

He has an impressive biography - but depending on which language you are reading (English, Japanese or Turkish) it is different. He claims to be a Turkish astronaut candidate for NASA, but closer inspection will show that this is his head photoshopped onto the body of Richard Hieb.

He has had "guest professorships" all over the world, according to the list is on the Turkish Wikipedia (translated here). It appears that he gave talks at these schools, but not that he had guest professorships. He is not listed in the official researchers lists for projects he supposedly worked on.

His publication list has a number of anomalies: wrong publisher; long article in a journal that only prints short ones; an examination of a given journal issue shows no article with that name; one publication can be found with the same name and co-author, but not with his name on it.

He also claims to be an Olympic gold medalist in skiing. However, there is no record of this.

Asahi Shinbum, a respected Japanese newspaper, picked this up and reported that they checked his reference that was supposed to be from the Turkish Air Force, but they denied that it was from them.

When things got hot in the Japanese press, an investigation into his dissertation was started. Since it turned out to be more than  40% plagiarized (later reports: 59%) the University of Tokyo revoked his doctorate in March of 2010 (press release in Japanese translated by Google) - the first time in the history of the university that they have done such a thing!

In the aftermath, his talk at TEDxTaipei in Taiwan and other places were mysteriously canceled. It is a shame that they were not open about this. He is no longer listed as a professor at the University of Tokyo. And the university has announced a crackdown on plagiarism.

Nice to hear of a success story, even if it did take 10 years!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

But that's just how we do it!

Over a round of "Friday beers" in a European capital, a group of researchers gathered who happened to be from four different fields and worked in three different European countries. We got into a plagiarism discussion, and I found there were some disturbing observations made:
  • The chemist noted that it is normal for the PI to put his/her name on any papers written in their lab. Not always do they read the papers before submitting them.
  • The chemist also noted that the last paper which was sent to the PI had three authors on it, the two doing the research and the PI. When it was returned it had four names on it - and neither researcher knew the fourth one. They questioned the PI, who responded: Oh, that's a former postdoc of mine. He's applying for a professorship in X and needs some more publications.
  • The chemist had a previous PI in a previous lab in another European country. Here a big-shot American researcher was added to a paper to "insure" that it would be accepted for Nature. Needless to say, this researcher had neither done the research, nor written or even read the paper.
  • The political scientist started into citation indices and how important they were for their field. Of particular importance is the number of quotations you get within two years of publication. The historian grumbled that it would be lovely to get papers published within two years of writing them, and having anyone read them and maybe one person publish a review within two years would be wonderful, but nothing will get cited within that time frame.
  • The computer scientist noted that conference papers are more important than journal articles in her field, much to the shock of the chemist.
From this brief, non-scientific exchange we can gather that honorary authorship is normal in some sciences, and citation metrics don't really help tell how productive a researcher is. The chemist noted that the post-docs don't like these extra names on their papers, but they don't feel that they can say anything or they will anger the PI and endanger their careers.

What can be done to get rid of "honorary authorship"? Or should we just accept it as the way things are done in some fields? 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Swiss court affirms: Plagiarism is not allowed

The Neue Züricher Zeitung reports that the Swiss Federal Administrative Court has upheld the decision of the national examination board (Schweizerische Maturitätskommission) regarding the exclusion of a student from the final exams for his high school diploma (Matura) on the basis of plagiarism in his thesis work.

The student from Waadtland had used the Wikipedia and other Internet sources word-for-word in his thesis without referencing them. He had previously been warned by a teacher that it was necessary to reference Internet sources. It is also stated clearly in the rules for the thesis that it must be written by the student alone.

The student was also fined 500 Swiss Franks and must pay lawyer and court costs.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Plagiarism Softwaretest 2010

I am happy to announce that we are, indeed, continuing to test so-called plagiarism detection systems. Last year we moved offices to a new campus, so there was no time to deal with research. But I again have a student researcher to help this summer.

We have developed 10 new test cases, this time in English. They include some "normal" plagiarism, some with European characters sprinkled in, an original, one that contains program source code in Perl, a translation from the French Wikipedia to English, a longish passage from a Google books, and an extensively rewritten version of a text from the Project Gutenberg.

We have identified 44 (!) plagiarism detection systems, with more showing up in blogspam every day. We are not sure that we will be able to test them all, but we will be giving it a good try. I have applied to extend the funding so that we can try as many as we can, and also do our write up in English and in German.

The current list:
  • AntiCutAndPaste
  • AntiPlag
  • AntiPlagiarist
  • ArticleChecker
  • Attributor
  • Blackboard / SafeAssign
  • BOSS 2
  • CatchItFirst
  • CodeSuite
  • CopyCatch Gold
  • CopyScape free edition
  • CopyScape Premium Edition
  • CopyrightSpot
  • Doc Cop
  • Docoloc
  • Ephorus
  • Eve2
  • FairShare (von Attributor)
  • GenuineText
  • iPlagiarismCheck /checkforplagiarism
  • JPlag
  • Kopi Protection
  • MOSS
  • Picapica
  • PlagAware
  • Plagiarism Detector
  • Plagiarism-Finder
  • Plagiarisma
  • PlagiarismAnalyzer
  • plagium
  • PlagScan
  • ProfNet / PlagiatService
  • StrikePlagiarism
  • TextGuard
  • Turnitin
  • The Plagiarism Checker
  • Urkund
  • WCopyfind
The criteria are more quantified than they were before, and we have a detailed usability test included. We also insist on being able to find a proper real world address for the companies and get a response to our emails that is not generated by a robot. 

We started testing last week and noticed that many of our first test cases now come through clean because the sources that we plagiarized from are no longer available online. However, Bing has taken copies of our first group of test cases, so we have to exclude these from the results. We look forward to seeing how the systems have changed!

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Book Forbidden

I owe this blog at least two book reports that I have not gotten around to on account of semester pressures. I'll take them one at a time.

The German law professor Volker Rieble published a thin blue book entitled "Das Wissenschaftsplagiat - Vom Versagen eines Systems" in April of this year. It is fascinating in that it names names. I ordered my copy immediately, fearing that it would be removed from the market. And so it has happened - a court injunction has forced the book out of print, effectively forbidding it. The publisher, Vittorio E. Klostermann writes:
Two law professors who were named in Volker Rieble's book and whom he criticized on their citation methods, have obtained an injunction from the Hamburg regional court (Landgericht) against this publisher. We are not allowed to publish certain passages from the book. The currently bound and sold copies of the book are, however, not included in the injunction. This has made it easier for this publisher to forgo an expensive legal battle and to accept the injunction as the final legal arrangement. 

As I am not a lawyer, I do not want to discuss the subtle points of law that both of the plaintiffs brought forth to establish their cases. Why the court decided the way they did is not known, because an injunction does not come with justification. I have learned that a German court can forbid a statement without giving a reason. I don't find this a good thing. It would have been useful if the Hamburg judges had at least given a brief sketch of their reasoning. Then we would know if they had read the book, or only the passages in question, and how the judges interpret the passages in the context of the book.

I decided to publish Volker Rieble's book because I found his concern to be important - pointing out problematic conventions in the scientific community. His goal is scholarly honesty: Not (only) plain-old plagiarism, but also the bad habit of using other people's intellectual property without properly identifying the author is problematic. For the various practices of this kind he introduced the term "Wissenschaftsplagiat", scholarly plagiarism, and used it in the title of his book. He explains this thoroughly from page 80 onwards. 

The debate about the things Rieble writes about does not belong in court, but in the glaring light of the professional scholarly public. That the scientific discussion that we are attempting to further in publishing our books could be gagged under threat of punitive action has happened for the first time in the 80 years of the existence of this publishing house.

But we have known, at least since the FAZ reported on June 2, 2010 about the Weigend review of the book by Calvo-Goller about the International Criminal Court (the Chronicle reported in English), that scholarly free speech is threatened.
Many of the cases Rieble discusses are, of course, from the area of law. Many of these cases were new to me, and I am thankful for the good footnotes that he uses to document the cases. My only quarrel is that he has a bizarre bit at the end where he finds Open Access to be responsible for the increase of plagiarism, something I cannot follow. Open Access helps us to better find those guilty of plagarism! The texts are open, dated, and the authorship is clear. I think we need more Open Access and not less. I have an essay on this topic that will be published the end of 2010, more on this later.

It is sad to see academic discourse being subjected to the vagaries of legal decisions.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

University of Bergen Plagiarism Video

The University of Bergen in Norway has put out an amusing video on plagiarism:

It is in Norwegian, with English subtitles. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Interesting links on fake conferences

While researching that last posting on fake conferences I found a number of interesting sites I want to link to here:
  • Diploma Mill News, a blog dedicated to "[e]xposing scammers of every ilk: diploma mills, fake diplomas, fabricated transcripts, bogus accreditation, plagiarism, cheating, essay mills, identity theft, impersonation of licensed professionals, and more."
  • The State of Oregon has a long list of unaccredited schools
  • Academic Spam, a blog that collects the solicitations ("If you are a pseudoscientist, then a new bogus conference is calling you to send fake papers")
  • A scientific paper:  Zhuang, Z., Elmacioglu, E., Lee, D., and Giles, C. L. 2007. Measuring conference quality by mining program committee characteristics.  In Proceedings of the 7th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (Vancouver, BC, Canada, June 18 - 23, 2007). JCDL '07. ACM, New York, NY, 225-234. DOI=
  • Some Japanese guy has plagiarized my first article on fake conferences...
  • A blacklist of conferences and journals
  • A 10-page paper from CERN that has 3469 authors (!) [Did they all get money from their institutions for this publication?]

More Fake Conferences?

I had a discussion with the GI Ethics group yesterday on the topic of fake conferences. How exactly do we decide if a conference is a fake - only there to provide researchers with publications to pad their CVs and a trip to a nice place? One of our group had submitted a paper to a conference that sounded legit, but when he arrived he was shocked that most of the week was dedicated to local tours and the few papers that he heard given were either very thin, very wacko, or given in such bad English as to be incomprehensible.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Academic Roadkill

The German journalist Hermann Horstkotte reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from June 23, 2010 on a strange case from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich.

A doctorate in Germany is awarded by the faculty department, and a reference to the department can be found after the Dr. title: Dr. phil. (humanities), Dr.-Ing. (engineering), Dr. rer. nat. (science). There has been a bit of inflation recently, with all sorts of doctoral titles appearing. The faculty of medicine at the LMU can confer a Dr. biol. hom. on people who did not study medicine, but work in the field.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

4th International Plagiarism Conference

I attended the 4th International Plagiarism Conference in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, this week, and presented a paper on my test cases for testing plagiarism detection systems. I had almost finished a very long version of this report when I wanted to find a YouTube link to add on the end. Since YouTube now insists that you use your Google account, I had to log out of my blog address, but continued typing. And so 2 hours of research and typing disappeared in a flash. I guess that I will need one different browser per Google "service" so that I don't mix them up. I'll try and retrieve from my brain:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Satisfaction - but not from the universities

H. Peter Gumm writes about the resolution of his plagiarism case that was reported here early last month. There was no active response on the part of either university involved about the plagiarism, but the publishers have removed the title from their catalog. This is a good sign, as I had speculated about whether this was a serious publisher or not. A serious publisher takes action when plagiarism is demonstrated, so they are rehabilitated in my eyes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Civil servant loses Dr Title, but keeps job

German (and Austrian) civil servants love having and using academic titles. Spiegel online reported in April (but I am just now getting around to sorting all this out) on the case of a top-level German civil servant who was stripped of his doctorate by the University of Göttingen when the thesis was discovered to be a plagiarism, but who remains in his job because a doctorate was not a necessary precondition for the job.

He was also taken to court by the public prosecuter, found guilty, and fined 9000 Euros (or 90 days in jail). The thesis adviser defended his not discovering the plagiarism because he can't possibly know all of the literature used...

Since his job is an elective one with a term of office until 2016, the political parties are still trying to at least get him "retired". This would still leave him with 70% of his current monthly pay. He could be retired if found to have "dishonorable conduct" - but this will probably have to be tested in court.

Purchasing a title

The Swedish daily newspaper Sydsvenskan had a free-lance reporter purchase a title at the "International Biographical Centre" in Cambridge. This is the place where a professor from Lund had purchased a title. The company insists, when interviewed on the record, that they fact-check all the details submitted by the "nominator". Nomination is free - but copies of the diploma and books and what not cost a pretty penny.

Christian Fredriksson purchased the award "2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st century" with the following CV:
  • PhD in reproductive linguistics
  • Secretary General of the Snapphanes, a 17th century pro-Danish guerrilla organization that fought against the Swedes in the Scanian wars, in Skyffladyngamåla, a mythical Swedish small town
  • CEO, The Future Factory
  • Regional Chancellor Exchequer
  • Lecturer at the University of Eslöv (which does not exist, pretty much the only thing in Eslöv is the regional tax office)
  • Swedish Honorary Veterinarian
  • Supreme Pellejoens of Lundagaard
For just 2000-5000 SEK ($260 - $650), depending on the number of things he wanted to have with this title on it, the title was his. So much for fact checking.

Professors and purchased titles

There seems to be quite a flurry of articles about professors who at some time purchased a title. Here are two that I still have around:
  • The Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dave Newbart writes: "A professor granted tenure by Northeastern Illinois University got his  doctorate from a school the federal government later labeled a 'diploma mill', but the state university says it granted him the lifetime job security under a rule that allows 'exceptional' teachers to be hired without a doctorate."

    He appears to be a good teacher, so why not just get rid of the doctorate pre-requisite for university teachers? Or just get rid of titles, period?

  • The southern Sweden daily newspaper Sydsvenskan is reporting that professors applying for research grants have peppered their CVs with fascinating prizes they supposedly won: 
    • "International Scientist of The Year"
    • "International Professional of The Year"
    • "2000 Most outstanding Intellectuals of the Year"
    • "International Book of Honour"
    • "World Wide Honours List Award"  for "outstanding contribution to linguistic and cognitive sciences 2004"

    All of these titles are apparently available for purchase. One of the professors involved is the vice rector of the University of Lund. "Oh dear," he remarked, "did I forget to remove that from my CV?"  The question remains, however, as to how it found its way into the CV to start with. Apparently, he didn't realize as a young researcher that you don't have to pay for real awards that you get.

The latter type of "award" is one of the so-called "vanity scams" that appeal to people wanting to be recognized as someone important. Who's Who scams seem to have been one of the earliest of these scams, but they are proliferating. Pay your fee for your copy of the handbook, which was probably printed on demand with just enough copies for the people who payed up.

Note: In Sweden, every official paper must be open to public scrutiny (except for a few things of national security importance). Swedish citizens can ask to see the mail of the minister president, and the press use this power frequently to dig out nasty bits. So if there people put stuff like this on a CV in a situation where it is possible for the press to get a copy of it, how many more of these fake titles are on CVs in places where we can't see them? Our school just removed someone from a shortlist when it was discovered that their doctorate was from a diploma mill. No questions asked, just removed. But the question is: how many don't we find?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Plagiarism or "Naturally Given"?

H. Peter Gumm contacted me about the appendix he published in 2003 in German on Coalgebras: Th. Ihringer: Allgemeine Algebra - Mit einem Anhang über
Universelle Coalgebra von H. P. Gumm, Heldermann Verlag.  If you are not a mathematician, this is not easy reading.

It seems that K. Denecke and S. Wismath: Universal Algebra and Coalgebra, World Scientific, 2009 is pretty much a word-for-word plagiarism, but translated into English. World Scientific is a write-only publication in my eyes: Searching the ACM digital library  for
"World Scientific" -"real world" -"real-world scientific"
I get only 47 hits. At least one is indeed a review, others still include the term "real-world scientific" in them. The publisher, located in Singapore, prints a wide range of books that do not seem to be widely quoted, although they do, indeed, publish the Nobel Lectures in English. But that is not the major focus of this blog entry.

Gumm has put together a documentation that is easy to follow, with some good comments pointing out errors that point to plagiarism. For example, a simple programming error from Gumm can be found identically in Denecke/Wismath. There is also a translation of the German word "Konto" to "Bank Account" (with a blank, which is illegal in programming for an identifier). And at points where own work was included, Gumm demonstrates that a proposition is not a theorem, but false. Strangely, Gumm's own translation of "bounded functor" into "beschränkter Funktor" has become, upon re-translation, "restricted functor". Amazing, this is exactly what Google Translator spits out.

He has contacted the publishers of 2 reviews of the book, requesting that they be withdrawn. One will be investigating the matter, but Math Reviews refuses to do anything more than inform the publisher.

A letter to Denecke requesting an explanation was quickly answered with a letter stating that this is just the most natural way of explaining the subject matter as simply as possible. He does not see that this can in any way be called a plagiarism.

So I ask my readers - what do you think? Is this plagiarism or "naturally given"? And how should an author who finds himself plagiarized react to this? How is the "self-cleansing propensity of the scientific community" supposed to work, if anyone can publish anything they choose, no one looks closely at what it is, and no one is willing to retract anything?

Update: The German weekly paper Die Zeit has reported on the case.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Preventing Plagiarism

Janet Stemwedel, blogging at "Adventures in Ethics and Science", discusses a paper on preventing plagiarism:

Bilic-Zulle, L., Azman, J., Frkovic, V., & Petrovecki, M. (2008). Is There an Effective Approach to Deterring Students from Plagiarizing? Science and Engineering Ethics, 14 (1), 139-147 DOI: 10.1007/s11948-007-9037-2
The authors discuss plagiarism detected in papers written in Croatian in a medical school program, and note that the amount of plagiarism dropped significantly when the students were informed that their papers would be checked by software.

Psychological warfare works, apparently. The question is, how long until people end up just buying ghostwritten papers?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Quoting Twitter

An interesting question came up yesterday as I was helping prepare some web content on how to quote things from the Internet properly. The question was: How do you quote a Tweet on Twitter?

My first feeling was - sure, if there is anything on Twitter worth quoting, it should be quotable. So we set about looking for something to quote and then figure out how to quote it properly.

We looked and looked, but I had to admit that there was nothing in my Tweetstream I felt was fitting enough to quote. So - we tweeted something in order to quote it:

Now, all we have to do is quote it. We looked and looked for how to find the status number of the tweet, it took quite sometime until we found it hidden under the time stamp. Click on it, and you get a web page with just this tweet, and the URL is the unique name with the ID number for the Tweet. So all you have to do now is write
Tweet by WeWuWiWo., from March 25, 2010.

Glad we got that settled. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Me and Jesus and Dan Brown

My Google-bot just alerted me to a rather bizarre page. The Süddeutsche automatically collects information for a page about a particular topic, and has a box on the side for people associated with the topic.

This is what shows up for the German word for plagiarism
I rather fascinating company I keep. I can pretty much figure out why everyone is there, with the exception of Jesus....

Monday, March 8, 2010

Paper Mills

Two things in my inbox today that fit so well together, the links need to be noted here:
  • Reader HD found this on China Daily: Fake papers are rife at universities. It includes a number of statistics for China and notes that teachers often write papers in order to make a living wage. Imagine getting a paper handed in that you wrote yourself....
  • My Googlebot on Plagiarism keeps turning up articles at Yesterday's link was "The Danger of Online Essay Services" by Cynthia Jones-Shoeman. This is a rather strange site - they have a lot of great articles on proper studying, but the navigation soon sucks you into a vortex of advertising.
Students don't realize that one of the reasons they are in college is to learn to think, structure, and write. Many just want the degree to earn more money...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Plagiarius Awards 2010

The prizewinners have been named for the Plagiarius competition 2010. A jury of designers, intellectual property specialists, economists, and media people had a hard pick between the 43 nominations. Looking at the winners one gets the impression of seeing double.

The award, a black garden dwarf with a golden nose (spoofing the German saying "earning yourself a golden nose), never seems to be picked up. The exhibits can be seen at the museum in Solingen.

Plagiarism and no end

In the never-ending story of Helene Hegemann and her plagiarism in the book "Axolotl Roadkill", the German newspaper FAZ (which seems to have devoted approximately 100 pages of newsprint to this topic in the last few weeks) has printed a comment by Durs Grünbein entitled "Plagiarism".

It was a puzzle for the readers, who quickly thought that the way of writing was so old-fashioned and remembered a piece by Gottfried Benn from 1926, also entitled "Plagiarism".

One wonders if the newspapers now think that plagiarism is okay, just as long as they tell us in the end who the real author might have been.

Update: The blog Dialog International has a nice translation of the meatist parts:
Gottfried Benn:
"Was heißt demgegenüber Entlehnung, was Plagiat oder Herkunft des Materiellen, man vergesse doch nicht, dass diese Begriffe in Sphären liegen, die ohne Raum und ohne Atem sind. Seit es Welten gibt, wo immer sich Reiche des Geistigen bildeten, gab es nur eine einzige Sphäre, in der alle Begriffe des Seelischen Maß und Halt, Verurteilung oder Rechtfertigung enthielten, die Sphäre des Schöpferischen, die Kunst."
(What, by contrast, constitutes borrowing, what is plagiarism or origin of the material. Lest we forget that these are terms in the spheres, which are breathless and space-less. Ever since worlds have existed, wherever spiritual realms were formed, there was only one sphere which contained all the terms of the spiritual dimension and support, condemnation or justification, the sphere of creativity, art.)

Das, was wir machen, ist eine Summierung aus den Dingen, die wir erleben, lesen, mitkriegen und träumen. Originalität gibt's sowieso nicht, nur Echtheit."
(What we do is the sum of the things that we experience, read, observe and dream. There is no originality, only authenticity.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

DFG: Quality, not Quantity

The German basic research funding agency DFG announced a decisive change for its application and reporting procedures on Feb. 23, 2010. They will no longer count the number of publications as a quality indicator.

Instead, researchers may only list up to 5 publications - their most important publications. No publications that have been submitted or are in preparation will be accepted, only published or accepted for publication papers are allowed. For reporting on grants or for research directly related to the current grant application, a maximum of two papers per grant year may be listed.

The new rules take effect in July 2010. The DFG states explicitly that they want to go against the trend to equate quantity with quality. They want referees to focus more on the project goals.

They note that the recent spate of academic misconduct cases were not the reason for them changing the rules. And they realize that it will be difficult for researchers to change how they write grant applications. But they feel that most scientists will learn the first time they get a grant rejected for putting too many publications on their C.V.

I heartily applaud the decision of the DFG and sent the press release to all of my colleagues. There has already been moaning - if publications aren't counted any more, the lazy people will now have another reason not to publish. This will certainly be a continued, interesting discussion in Germany.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another German Politician with Purchased Doctorate

Another German politician has been caught using a doctorate that he purchased. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports on Dieter Jasper, who sits in parliament for the ruling CDU party.

It seems that in 2004 he "obtained" a doctorate from the "Freien Universität Teufen" in Switzerland. He said that he chose this university because he "needed" a doctorate in order to take over his father's company and this one had an "easy" doctoral degree regulation (Promotionsordnung). One does indeed wonder how he found them, as they don't even have the pretense of a home page. If you google them, you find an advertising page for purchasing degrees and a link to a "European Acadamy".

He says that he wrote a dissertation - an analysis of his father's company. How convinient.

When all the talk about purchased titles came up, he hired a lawyer to check the validity of his title. But he continued using it, as there were elections running in September 2009 and that title just looks so nice. He won, by a hair.

A fellow parliamentarian, Mario Czaja, also from the CDU, was also recently discovered to have a "doctorate" from the same illustrious institution. He was forced to resign from the committee on science. Theoretically, Jasper could be fined or even spend up to a year in prison.

Bizarrely, these ads for companies that will help you purchase a doctorate were decorating the page of the Süddeutsche....
Maybe the SZ needs to have a closer look at their Google AdSense keywords.

(Thanks to Wolf for the pointer!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Philosopher from Belgium accused of plagiarism "disappears"

Here is a bizarre story from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. It seems that the well-known professor of philosophy, Martin Stone, was discovered to have extensively plagiarized the dissertation of a Finnish scholar who is currently a member of the Finnish Parliament. The title of the Finnish dissertation is Probability and Moral Uncertainty in late Medieval and Early Modern Times.

Upon investigation, many more plagiarisms in journal articles showed up. In the middle of the semester, Prof. Stone took a leave of absence from the school for personal reasons, and has now resigned from the University. All references to Stein have been erased from the school's web pages.

The school newspaper has an article about the case and an interview with the Finnish parliamentarian, Iikka Kantola.

Thanks to Erja Moore for the tip! Update 15.2.2013 to reflect that Stone is not Belgian.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More on the German Literary Plagiarism

My glory. Something is Happening in the German Literary Scene.

Every single media outlet in Germany has had something to say about the young author Helene Hegemann and her plagiarism. Most have been focusing on her youth, her hair, her famous father.  Thomas von Steinaecker has requested in the Börsenblatt that the reviewers leave the sensationalism and focus on the text. Is it literature? Is it a plagiarism? Does it matter?

The FAZ has been in overdrive. My FAZ-reading neighbors have collected 3 long articles this week alone on the topic. I don't really want to read them, but I suppose I'll have to sooner or later. The FAZ did land the coup of speaking with Airen, the author of the basis for the plagiarism, Strobo.

Airen wrote the blog anonymously, as an outlet for writing about the excesses he experienced on weekends in Berlin clubs. In real life he was a management consultant. I had been grubbing around, curious about him (or her?). The myspace page for Strobo, which was last visited just before Christmas last year, lists Airen as male, 28, Capricorn and living in Berlin. (So happy belated birthday!)

In the interview he reveals that he lived in Mexico for a year and a half and met a girl there that he married. I wonder how long he is really going to remain anonymous.

The FAZ also reports scouring Strobo, and finding that Airen, too, did some creative borrowing from Gottfried Benn, William Burroughs and Ernst Jünger. And that Hegemann's nomination for the Leipzig book prize still stands. This will be interesting if she wins.

Oh, and the publisher Piper notes that they removed Jens Lindner's "Döner for One" from the bookstores on account of it being a plagiarism of Janet Evanovichs 1996 book „Einmal ist keinmal“(Once is not enough). But they did this in December, already, before the current storm.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Berlin Bestseller Author Admits Plagiarism

The local Berlin news RBB reports that the 17-year-old wunderkind bestseller author of Axolotl Roadkill, Helene Hegemann, has admitted to plagiarism. The accusations were published by the Munich blogger Deef Pirmasen. (Interview with Deef Pirmasen in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the blog is sometimes not reachable).

Deef Pirmasen reports wondering how the author as a 16-year-old was able to get into the Berghain club, which is widely known for pitching out people who even appear to be a day younger than 21. And there were some words such as "Technoplastizität" that are not really in general use. He suddenly remembered the blogger Airen who had published a text "Strobo - Technoprosa aus dem Berghain" with the underground publisher SuKuLTur-Verlag.

The publisher, Ullstein Verlag, has put out her apologies quickly after the plagiarism accusations. She does, however, defend what she did:
"Das, was wir machen, ist eine Summierung aus den Dingen, die wir erleben, lesen, mitkriegen und träumen", schrieb Hegemann. "Originalität gibt's sowieso nicht, nur Echtheit." [What we do is the sum of the things that we experience, read, observe and dream. There is no originality, only reality.]
Ullstein is said to be trying to obtain a license to use the plagiarized materials from Airen.

Update: Prodded on by numerous journalists trying to interview me (and since I am proctoring a long exam, only the ones who can deal with email win this one), I note that this case of matching story plagiarism is a matching story to a case in the US. Harvard student and Wunderkind Kaavya Viswanathan published “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild,  and Got a Life,” which turned out to be extremely similar to Megan F. McCaffert's “Sloppy Firsts” (2001) and “Second Helpings” (2003). The Wikipedia entry has an extremely detailed table with the matches from the book which was withdrawn.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chinese Paper Mills and Plagiarism

I have previously reported on what I found to be "fake conferences" in China. Forschungsmafia has pointed me to an amazing, unsigned article at the China Internation Information Center.

Prof. Yang Shen (沈阳) of the School of Information Management at the Wuhan University has been working in the area of plagiarism for some time and has developed the ROST system for identifying possible plagiarisms. The team has also started doing empirical analysis on published sources with quite shocking results.

I found an article first published on the "Straits Times" (Singapore) about ghostwriting in English (via a republishing service) that also interviews a ghostwriting company that sees nothing wrong with the service. They quote a Mr. Liu:
'I don't see ghostwriting as unethical,' he said. 'People don't always have time to do everything by themselves, so sometimes they pay to get some help. There's nothing wrong with that.
I beg to differ.

I managed to contact Prof. Yang Shen, although many of the pages are in Chinese - Google Translator does a passable. It seems, though, that he has announced that he is now no longer doing plagiarism work, but data mining work, using a system (ROST) that he built to analyze English and Chinese texts. There was apparently some excitement when Nature managed to place a call....

Anyway, he kindly sent me a pre-print on his investigation. His team examined 57199 documents. The documents are classified as student-written, professor-written, or student-and-professor written. They are also sorted into fields, and for two fields - journalism and communications - a social web of the authors is constructed. The team also evaluated 450 questionnaires that were administered to Chinese Students.

The results are fascinating and quite detailed. Since he has not published it yet, I don't want to go into more details, but I have encouraged him to submit to a European conference on plagiarism.  I am happy that someone is starting to do something about Chinese plagiarism and ghostwriting.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

German Former College President Fined

The Frankfurter Rundschau reports on the case of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kunze, who used to be the college president of the public business college (FHW) in Berlin and was the founding president of a private business college (OTA-Hochschule). Private colleges and universities are relatively new to Germany.

It seems that in 2001 Prof. Kunze, a professor for finance, applied to the FHW for an academic leave of absence in order to set up this private college. He was relieved of his teaching duties, but his monthly salary kept rolling in. In addition, the new school also payed him a good monthly salary.

According to German public college and university rules, you have to at least tell your school that you are getting a second salary. There is a complicated formula that determines how much of the second salary you have to hand over to the government. It seems, this was forgotten.

The FHW also had granted his leave of absence giving as the reason that this was part of his "duties", which is quite unusual, as the government does not pay people to work for private companies.

Kunze was fined 60.000 Euros, which is a bit more than a one year's salary. Kunze, who has been widely lauded for setting up this private school by the Lord Mayor and others, will be appealing this judgement by the lower courts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I am very happy to introduce you to another plagiarism researcher (and that is what  Plagiointitutkija means in Finnish), Erja Moore. She is a sociologist and principle lecturer at the North Karelia University of Applied Sciences.

She has been blogging about plagiarism in Finnish since 2008, and she also has a portal about plagiarism in Finnish, similar to my own in German. Apparently, education officials in Finland have decided that plagiarism is a non-problem. She was also at the conference in 2008 in England on plagiarism that I also attended (but we somehow didn't meet up there) and presented a paper on the situation in Finland  (in English).

She has also just blogged about my blog, I'm afraid that I don't understand more than the my name, the word for English (Englanniksi) and the word for German (Saksan). But I am very happy that more and more people are reporting on plagiarism online!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Massive Write-Only Publications

I was looking for Donald Knuth's wonderful book 3:16 on Amazon when I stumbled on this book for sale:
The 2007 Report on Industrial and Agriculture Twine Less Than 3/16-Inch Diameter Made from Manmade Fibers: World Market Segmentation by City (Taschenbuch)
Now that's a mouthful. But what I found interesting was the price: 794,99€.
I suppose they sell a maximum of one. And it's in stock. And since there is no selling rank, I'm assuming there hasn't been a sale yet, although there is a used one up for grabs.

On closer inspection I find the publisher: Icon Group International. Ah, yes. I've blogged about this publisher before. I call this write-only publishing, only useful for padding resumes. I suppose the price is so high so no one purchases it and then finds out that it only has blank pages or worse.

The summary looks like it was produced by a machine:
"... In what follows, I summarize the economic potential for the world's major cities for "industrial and agriculture twine less than 3/16-inch diameter made from manmade fibers" for the year 2007. The goal of this report is to report my findings on the real economic potential, or what an economist calls the latent demand, represented by a city when defined as an area of dominant influence. [...] For many items, latent demand is clearly observable in sales, as in the case for food or housing items. Consider, however, the category "satellite launch vehicles". Clearly, there are no launch pads in most cities of the world. However, the core benefit of the vehicles (e.g. telecommunications, etc.) is "consumed" by residents or industries within the world's cities."
 3/16 inch twine? Latent demand? Satellite launch vehicles?.

I checked out the author, Philip M. Parker. Goodness, what a busy man. There are 107.181 entries in Amazon's database! The first is a history book, the proceeds of which will go to finance Webster's online dictionary?

Expanding the cover I find him listed as a professor and a Ph.D., a "Chaired professor of Management Science INSEAD (Singapore and Fontainebleau, France)".

INSEAD has a web site, although there is some discussion on web sites as to whether or not this is a diploma mill. And there is a Philip M. Parker there, a professor for marketing. He lists only 7 books on his web site, none about 3/16 inch twine. He is also listed as responsible for the site "Webster's Online Dictionary", apparently the name is in the public domain.

Ah, the Wikipedia tells us what's up: He has a patent on producing publications by software, using the print-on-demand publisher IGI. There have been articles in the New York Times and the Financial Times Deutschland.

This is absurd. These are not niche products. They are spam. They are clogging up databases. And it proves to me that a reference on a resume that lists IGI as the publisher is not worth the paper it may be printed on.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Frau Dr. and the Bild-Zeitung

The new German Minister for Family Matters (Kristina Köhler, 32, unmarried, no children) has had her lawyers send a threatening letter to the Bild-Zeitung, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.

It seems that the Bild-Zeitung was looking into some "irregularities" concerning the dissertation of Frau Dr. Köhler. The Süddeutsche had also reported on the amazing capabilities of Ms. Köhler, who managed to write her dissertation while being a member of parliament. She had some help from the national organization of her party to send questionnaires to 180 members of parliament from her party and to select and send the questionnaires to 1000 members of the party. Her goal was to see if the values of the representatives were similar to members of the party.

She also paid someone to put the questionnaire into a computer and to do the layouting, the Süddeutsche reports. The Bild-Zeitung was busy doing some deeper research into the matter, when the editor-in-chief, Kai Diekmann, received a letter from Köhler's lawyers just before Christmas - but it was not Christmas greetings. He publishes the letter in facsimile in his blog. They are threatening to sue the newspaper for damages if they publish anything "wrong" about this topic.

There have apparently been a lot of journalists calling the CDU, the University of Mainz, and her advisor there,  it seems. Her advisor does a lot of quite interesting research in the area of extremist parties and why people vote the way they do.

But word seems to have gotten back to Minister Köhler that all of these inquires were being made by the Bild-Zeitung, and so she had her lawyers write the letter. From the letter (my translation):
The help [she received] was only of a technical nature and concerned the sending of the questionnaires, the optical design of the questionnaire, putting the data in machine-readable form, problems with the software, and doing the layout and formatting of the thesis. [...] The amount of this help was known to the mentor and he accepted it.
Of course. Thank you for setting this straight. She did note in her thesis (it has been reported, I could not obtain a copy to check myself) that she had used this help, so the University of Mainz knew what it was doing when it gave her the doctorate. She did nothing - legally - wrong. But morally? People who have spent years of their life doing everything themselves for their doctorates, perhaps even having their doctoral theses not accepted, may perhaps be excused for being somewhat bitter at this story. It makes one wonder - what exactly does it mean when you have "Dr." in front of your name? And why do the lawyers get active if there is nothing wrong here? Just put the thesis online and let everyone have a look for themselves.

Perhaps this case finally makes it clear that we need a more widely accepted general definition of what exactly constitutes a dissertation, and not just the personal discretion of a professor who convinces his or her department that the results are worthy of conferring a title.

Or maybe we can just quit using "Dr." as part of our names and as some sort of proof of superiority in German-speaking countries. A doctorate is only useful in academia, because it has to do with ability to do research. It should not be of value in business or politics or sports.