Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strike Two - Serial Plagiarism?

Another case was made public on the home page of the VroniPlag Wiki this morning, case 26, from the University of Münster. This case is quite interesting, as it is the second strike, if you will, involving the same author in the same week.

Case 25 was not a dissertation, but a textbook on scientific methodology for law students. The publisher, a respected German publisher, withdrew the book from the market within hours of seeing the documentation on the VroniPlag Wiki. Since the publisher's association in Germany has been publicly fighting against "piracy" on the internet, it doesn't look too good to be having such a blatant plagiarism in one's program. No need to have long, drawn-out meetings to hem and haw about the situation. Anyone who can read can see the large amounts of plagiarism, including many fragments from the Wikipedia. Swift action was needed, and taken.

There has been a long and very fruitful discussion on the forums page of the VroniPlag Wiki. The main author first published a statement saying that he would investigate how the plagiarism happened. The editor responsible for the legal publications also joined in. They discussed whether it would have been useful to inform the publisher first, before going online with the documentation. Many people were upset with the main author's need to investigate at all, feeling that he should know what he wrote.

There was then a second statement in which the main author has taken responsibility for the debacle, giving the following reasons:
  1. Many of the texts had been used in their department for years, they never thought to check for plagiarism. 
  2. They had a number of "young students" in the department help them write. Because of an "error", the preface was not printed that would have thanked them for their work. These texts were also not checked.
  3. In order to make the text "readable" they had removed some footnotes.
The discussion of these reasons is ongoing, while case #26 quickly came to the top - the dissertation of one of the other authors of this textbook.

The dissertation is more of the same, a patchwork of texts -- including the Wikipedia -- taken with minor changes. This raises the question if this is perhaps a serial plagiarist at work? As soon as the plagiarism in the text book was made public, the home pages of the second and third author were quickly blanked out. Good thing the Internet Archive exists, it is hard to remove something quickly from the Internet. The University of Münster needs to answer some serious hard questions: Why was this thesis awarded the university prize (with 7500 € !) in 2009? Why are there two plagiarisms in the same department? Is there more? How can the university teach students not to plagiarize, when some teachers seem to find it okay?

It will be interesting to see how this continues.

9 comments:

  1. Seeing the current state of the documentation of case #26 (around 22% with really obvious fragments), one can be pretty astonished about the fact that the candidate wasn't even ashamed of accepting the university price for this dissertation, although he knew what his thesis was made of...
    All's fair that boosts your career, this seems to be a widespread mentality in some fields.

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  2. To be honest, one should notice that the profile pages are back online including a list of all publications. Comparing the pages with the archived versions shows that there have not been any changes.

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  3. This Schumacher character seems to be quite something.
    After the whole Guttenberg thing I would thought that people like him would have tried to keep a low profile. But no, he decides to write a book (again copy+pasteing from wikipedia like in his thesis) about scientific methodology!

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    1. The textbook was published in 2012. It would seem that parts of it were "written" and compiled before the Guttenberg scandal broke. In any case it's safe to assume that "Dr." Schumacher was sweating bullets when the plagiarism in his textbook was revealed. He must have known that it was a logical step for the plagiarism hunters of Vroniplag to examine his dissertation next. And like that his career is ruined. Poor guy :-)

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    2. Even if not all these cases are truly plagiarisms one thing stroke me - I was not at all surprised because with all the love for a title in Germany it seems doctor title is more important than a person and her/his capacity are (there are private companies still that pay more merely for having a title). It is to me a logical development that people use shortcuts to get the glory then. I also find funny all the outrage - why not check all the doctor titles given by the universities involved - clearly they have been not doing their job properly or? Another thing worth consideration is actual merits of majority of these works - is there any?

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  4. Well, it's not out yet whether his career is actually ruined. We already had some weird decisions of some faculties here in Germany, sometimes even followed by the DFG (see the TU Cottbus case, namely the Dähnert case). Seeing the fact that one can receive a doctorate in medicine with more than 70% of plagiarized pages in Heidelberg, one may hear something like „that's how science works in juresprudence“ from Münster as well. I won't be surprised after all I have seen so far...

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    1. I don't think that the university Münster can afford to turn a blind eye to this. Their reputation is already in question with the textbook scandal. At one point they have to put their foot down if they don't want to lose all academic credibility. I think it's safe to assume that Herr Schumacher will lose his doctorial degree and academic career.

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  5. Hmmm, Wrong link?

    "Case 25 was not a dissertation, but a textbook on scientific methodology for law students."

    This should link to http://de.vroniplag.wikia.com/wiki/Jam , not ...Psc.

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