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?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

News about VroniPlag Wiki cases

A few notes on current and past VroniPlag Wiki cases:
  • Margarita Mathiopoulos (VPW case Mm, extensive documentation to be found at MMDoku) submitted her dissertation in political science in 1986 to the University of Bonn. In 1989 an intensive public discussion (started by Spiegel) arose about plagiarism in the thesis, but the university decided after an investigation not to rescind the doctorate. In 2011, VroniPlag Wiki looked into the dissertation again and found much more plagiarism. The university re-opened the investigation and rescinded the doctorate in 2012. Mathiopoulos took the university to court and lost. No appeals were permitted, but she appealed against there not being a chance of an appeal. According to Spiegel Online, she has won that case, so now an appeal is permitted to determine if the VroniPlag Wiki documentation contains new material. If that is the case, the university can indeed withdraw the doctorate after the second examination. If the documentation is considered to be more of the same that was evaluated the first time, then the university will be bound by its decision at that time. Since the appeals are still running, Mathiopoulos can continue to use her doctoral degree and remains appointed as an honorary professor at the University of Potsdam and the Technical University of Braunschweig.
  • Sophie Koch (VPW case Ssk) submitted a dissertation in pedagogy to the University of Düsseldorf in 2011. This is the same department to which former German education minister Annette Schavan had submitted her dissertation in 1980. Suspicions of plagiarism were raised in the VroniPlag Wiki forum in 2012, and the documentation began. And stagnated. There were plenty of other cases around. Eventually, though, it was decided to make the case known, and the university was informed. Surprisingly, the university library notes that the doctoral degree was already rescinded in February. This means that someone else had already informed the university and they they had been investigating it for some time.
    So who is Sophie Koch? If you read German, the blog Erbloggtes has an amusing account. The so-called "popular press" has been having a field day, as Sophie Koch is a popular and well-known TV personality with her own show on a German commercial television channel giving advice to single mothers and teenagers. The number of mistakes in the reporting, even by the so-called serious press, is highly amusing. 
  • It is sad, however, to see that the press only seems to report on celebrities or particularly problematic cases (100 % of the pages plagiarized). Cases in which a dissertation in law that was rejected from a German university for plagiarism was then submitted with a few modifications to the Austrian University of Innsbruck and accepted there (VPW case Rm) or a 61-page dissertation in medicine at the University of Bonn that includes 11 pages verbatim and without reference from the Wikipedia and even more from various textbooks and papers (VPW case Go) get little press coverage, if at all. There are currently 143 cases documented on the site, 75 alone in medicine and dental medicine. There is plagiarism from papers by the doctoral advisor, there are habilitations that share much text with dissertations prepared under the tutelage of the same post-doc and it is impossible to tell who copied from whom or if they wrote it together and "forgot" to mention it. Some lift bits and pieces from other theses at the same university, some prepare a collage of papers from other universities, some use the Wikipedia without reference rather copiously. We have seen someone recycle his own doctorate in medicine for part of his second doctorate, this time in theology (VPW case Jpm). What we can determine is that the system is failing to detect and sanction plagiarism at all levels. The big question is: how do we do something about it?

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Professorial Ghostwriter

I had an interesting phone call this morning. The caller had experienced something the other day that was quite bothering him. Did I know what he could do?

He was on a train, and recognized the two gentlemen sitting across from him. One was a professor who is rather well-known in his field and sits on the board of an important company. He began to speak with his friend as if the two of them were alone in front of the fireplace in the privacy of his home.

It seems the professor moonlights as a ghostwriter for a Switzerland-based company, writing theses and dissertations not for the money involved, but for the thrill of it. He assured his friend that he faithfully reports his income, the pittance that they pay their writers, to the tax office. He even wrote a doctoral dissertation for a colleague who had done all of his experimental work, but was too busy to sit down and write the thesis.

"And I always make sure to include a reference to one of my own papers in every paper I write," he beamed, apparently rather pleased with himself. His friend was only concerned with the legality of what he was doing, not the moral issue: Is it okay for a professor (who is supposed to be teaching students good scientific practices) to be a ghostwriter as well?

Indeed, it is legal to be a ghostwriter. The person who is cheating is the one who submits ghostwritten work as their own. And there really is no recourse here, as I told my caller. One can't call the dean of the professor's school, there is no evidence at hand. I am not aware of any universities in Germany that expressly forbid their professors to participate in ghostwriting. But it is indeed ethically highly problematic to be on both sides of the fence, as it were. Pretty much the only thing we can do is to discuss openly and widely what scientific misconduct is and how and why we avoid it.

Any ideas, readers? What would you have done, if you had overheard this conversation?

If you read German, here's an article about one of these services that boasts writers with doctorates and even professors.