Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's raining plagiarism

Lots of new cases of plagiarism to be reported, here just a short overview:
  • A former dean of the business school of the University of Mannheim, now retired, has been accused of plagiarizing the thesis of a student. Handelsblatt reported on the case on April 14, 2013, but I won't link to them. Deutschlandfunk interviewed the current dean on the question. It seems the university was informed anonymously about the case and didn't take action until the plagiarized student stepped up and complained. 
  • Laborjournal reports on an Indian researcher who kept referring to herself as a professor from the University of Heidelberg. She did have a habilitation from the medical department, but had never taught (one must teach one course a year to keep the title). And then it turned out that her thesis was a plagiarism. The university has quickly responded by saying that the allegations surfaced in November 2011, but were made anonymously. 
  • Spiegel Online / Unispiegel report on a case in Russia in which a group of Russian academics appear to have set up a VroniPlag Wiki-like documentation of the dissertation of a politician. However, as Spiegel is wont to do, the link is wrong. I googled a better page at Dissernet:
  • Back in December there was another report about another group in Russia documenting plagiarism in another politician's doctorate. This person was a member of the educational committee, but stepped down from there when the plagiarism was published. He remains, however, in the DUMA.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Responsible Conduct of Research

I just spent two days at the University of Aarhus helping them in drafting their policy on the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). I was very fortunate to be able to meet with some of the top people world-wide who are working in this area.

  • Niels Axelsen from Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark, who has written many articles, among them this one in Nature 
  • Melissa Anderson from the University of Minnesota who asked scientists how much they had committed scientific misconduct in the past and coauthored the "Scientists behaving badly" article in Nature.  
  • Philip Langlais from Old Dominion University, former vice-provost and consultant on setting up RCR policies 
  • Nick Steeneck from the University of Michigan, who is the Director of the Research Ethics and Integrity Program of the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research
  • Brigitte Jockusch from the University of Braunschweig and a member of the German research funding organization DFGs "Ombud" committee for good scientific practice
  • Charlotte Haug, editor of the Norwegian Medical Journal and vice-chair of COPE, the international Committee on Publication Ethics.
After a day of talks we met with members of the Danish government and a number of people from the university to go through their proposed document. I have been suggesting for some time that all universities need such a document. It turns out to be surprisingly difficult to do, in particular because research is different between life sciences (who also have human and animal experiments), business, humanities, engineering, and the natural sciences.

It would seem to be useful for a university to have one short, global policy and then have each faculty or department work out the specific details for their own field.

It seems that there were more questions at the end of the session than at the beginning. Especially, the following seemed to be central:
  • Everyone agrees that education is important. But who will educate the students? The faculty? When will the instruction be? It seems important to instruct people on why the responsible conduct of science is important, but will people listen and learn?
  • The question of whistleblowing takes an enormous amount of thought. Can there be anonymous whistleblowers? Many may have a personal axe to grind with the accused, but there are also many correct accusations. Should it depend on the identity of the whistleblower being known? Melissa Anderson explained the interesting system that they have at her university. The university pays an outside company to run a hot-line and web-based reporting system.  People can register with any name they like, and come back and add additional information if they wish. The person evaluating the tip is then someone who is not from the university, and refers cases to the appropriate institutions. This would be a great thing to have nationally - professors willing to evaluate cases, and the possibility of submitting anonymous reports and still being able to discover what action is being taken on the case. As can be seen in the recent cases in Heidelberg and Mannheim, often the universities have been dragging their feet in responding to the accusation. This, however, is not responsible conduct. Investigations need to be swift. 
  • This leads to the question of resources. Brigitte Jockusch reports on the workload at the Ombud für die Wissenschaft - since zu Guttenberg the number of reported cases has been rapidly growing, the organization is only staffed by three professors who are still active researchers and teachers and one full-time employee. That is most certainly not enough.
  • Procedures - there was much debate on whether the investigation should start first, or the accused be informed first. There is, of course, a chance that evidence may be destroyed. The University of Aarhus is proposing an RCR Guidance counselor who does not inform the RCR board of cases, but only acts to inform potential whistleblowers of their rights and to discuss with them whether the case at hand could be considered unethical conduct. And does the RCR board only get active when there is a whistleblower? What if they learn of scientific misconduct through other channels, i.e. press reports?
  • How proactive should the RCR board be? How easy should it be to find the board? There is concern that in universities that do have such a board that the link to the web page is buried somewhere deep in the site. This has often been my experience.
  • What sanctions are possible? Who decides? Who is responsible for executing the sanctions? What is done in cases in which the accusation is in bad faith?
The university now has a lot more work to do, but it is encouraging to see them determined to set up a good policy.  In a few weeks there will be a world conference in Montreal on this topic with many of these people attending. I'm not able to attend - if any of my readers do, I'd love to extend guest blogging rights for reporting on the conference. Contact me, and I'll set you up as a co-author here!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Censorship of blogs

I recently discussed on my blog the issue of lawyers requesting take downs even for links to other sites. In this particular case (there are others to come) the lawyers felt that the page I was linking to was illegal.

I find this fascinating, as there has actually been litigation on this particular case that was decided by the Oberlandesgericht Karlsruhe in case 14 U 90/06 from August 4, 2006. If you read through the judgement, it is extremely clear: It was absolutely within the rights of this journal to publish what they did. So their page is not illegal, neither is linking to it.

MIR summarizes the case in German:
Ein Autor, der mit (wissenschaftlichen) Veröffentlichungen hervorgetreten ist, muss sich eine Überprüfung seiner Werke dahingehend gefallen lassen, ob es sich dabei um eine eigene geistige Leistung gehandelt hat. Die, das Persönlichkeitsrecht eines Betroffenen berührenden Recherchemaßnahmen, sind gerechtfertigt, wenn sie von einem vertretbaren Informationsinteresse (der Presse) getragen sind.
[An author who has stepped into the public sphere with a (scientific) publication must accept that his works will be examined by others in order to determine if they are his own intellectual works. The investigations are permissible, irrespective of the personal rights of the party involved, when they are carried out within reasonable bounds of informational interest, in this case, the press. - translation dww]
Since I currently do not have the time to pursue this particular case, I have removed the links in question. But we should probably at some point make it clear that removing something from the public is not the way to deal with such problems. Arguments, however, are always welcome.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

French Rabbi steps down in plagiarism scandal

France has been shaken by its own plagiarism scandal. Jean-Noël Darde has been documenting it on his blog Archéologie du "Copier-Coller" since March and the case has now reached the European press.

The German FAZ reported in an article on April 8, 2013 entitled Elitendämmerung (I won't link to the FAZ as they supported the Leistungsschutzrecht) that the Chief Rabbi in Paris, Gilles Bernheim, was embroiled in a strange plagiarism scandal. His work „Quarante Méditations Juives“ was found to be a plagiarism of, among others, Jean-François Lyotard and Elie Wiesel. Bernheim then accused Lyotard of having plagiarized from *him*, which Darde made clear was not the case.

So Bernheim changed his story. His ghostwriter (bizarrely called "Negro", or Nègre littéraire, black writer) was the plagiarist and did this to hurt him.

The taz took over the story on April 11 and noted that even though many of his books and official biographies had him listed as having a habilitation (second doctorate) in philosophy, he didn't actually have one. Spiegel Online spins it further, quoting Bernheim as saying that he never corrected this when people used the title, as he didn't want to disappoint his admirers.

The most curious plagiarism is his most often cited work, Mariage homosexuel, homoparentalité et adoption : ce que l’on oublie souvent de dire, lambasting homosexual marriage, parenting and adoption. Pope Benedict XVI seems to have quoted from it, but the true source is – a Catholic priest.

Although Bernheim had insisted a few days ago that he would not think of stepping down, he resigned on April 11, 2013 and is now "on leave", according to Spiegel Online.

Spiegel Online had also just recently (Feb. 18, 2013) published an interview with literature professor Hélène Maurel-Indart who noted that France is a paradise for plagiarists. She runs the web site Le Plagiat.

Jean-Noël Darde sent around two links to French articles about the case,
L'EXPRESS and Rue 89.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Plagiarism Education Week April 22-26, 2013

This does smell of advertising, but this event sponsored by Turnitin, among others, is an important one, even if they are probably using it to harvest email addresses for potential customers ;)

There will be webcasts Monday to Friday at 10.00 PDT (that's 19.00 German time) on interesting topics - I've signed up for a few.
When I see all of these people at different USA universities active about plagiarism, and then look at the German universities that are just looking for software to buy,  I wonder what it will take to get Germany to this level of involvement...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Plagiarized Spiders

A correspondent sent me this link from Arachnol. Mitt. 34 (2007) pp. 41-42 to an article published instead of a book review. It seems that a senior spider researcher was asked to review a new book on spiders, and was shocked to find 50 of his own illustrations. He has redrawn the diagrams on the basis of an older book that was correctly referenced.

The new book has the same diagrams, but now referenced as if the newer author had redrawn the diagrams on the basis of the older book. The reviewer spent months trying to get some action out of the publishers involved, who much rather would wash their hands of the whole thing. He was finally able to get the book withdrawn, but is puzzled as to why the publishers were not interested in reacting. He inquires in the end as to why the author of the new book had not just written him and asked him if he could use the pictures. With correct attribution he would have been glad to let the colleague have these pictures.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Garnish References

A point has recently come up of describing the tendency of some authors to include many references in their bibliographies that they have not actually consulted themselves. Often, these references are taken from other, cited work, as can be seen in the faithful preservation of spelling errors, number transpositions, or even just non-existent works. These references give the impression that the author is quite widely read, and some of them may be used as a scientific basis for "facts" that are not, in fact, true.

I came across one of these when a student was looking for a reference for that statement that people retain some percentage of what they read, more of what they hear, and even more of what they do. She found some references, but was unable to find the source given. At that time we looked around, but were just not able to find an original study that would support this statement commonly accepted as gospel truth in didaktics.

I just found a good blog entry discussing this problem that Will Thalheimer wrote in 2006: People remember 10%, 20%...Oh Really?. The blog details his quest for the source, and shows lots of fascinating graphs of this "fact", often with "references" given.

At VroniPlag Wiki there is also a case documented that has about 2200 references listed (on 170 pages). The link is to a page that started documenting the erroneous entries, although after about E or F the group lost interest, as there were so many errors.  This doctorate has since been rescinded.

I need a name for these kind of bogus or fictitious references. It has been suggested that they be called Petersilienreferenzen in German, as one often finds a sprig of parsley on one's plate in Germany in an attempt to spruce up the looks of a dish in a restaurant. I think that generalizing this to garnish references is a clearer name in English. Or is there a generally accepted term for these? Do any of my readers have good links to examples of this kind of reference?