Thursday, November 20, 2014

French journalism school executive suspended during plagiarism investigation

The Guardian reports that Agnès Chauveau, an executive from a journalism school in Paris, has been suspended for plagiarizing in columns that she published for the French-language web site Le Huffington Post.

The columns in question have been updated with a notice that the references have now been fixed:
Mise à jour: Ce billet est la reprise d'une chronique faite et lue chaque dimanche sur France Culture. Certaines références manquaient dès la version orale. Elles ont été ajoutées ici dès que ces erreurs ont été signalées afin que les citations et les sources apparaissent plus clairement.
The Institute of Political Sciences has launched an inquiry and suspended her during the inquiry.

Chauveau is said to have lifted material from various online and printed publications for her weekly radio show, then re-used the texts for her online column. Chauveau is quoted as having said that she had “forgotten to cite certain papers, but never on purpose”, and insisted: “I’ve rectified this each time there’s been a problem.” According to the Guardian, she is quoted as not having had the time "to cite all of her sources on the radio.”

In French media, there are articles in Liberation (with the quotations in French: «J’oublie de citer certains papiers mais ce n’est jamais volontaire et je rectifierai chaque fois que ça pose problème.» Elle a aussi expliqué qu’elle n’avait «pas le temps de citer à l’antenne toutes [ses] sources».) and Le Monde

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Münster tackles plagiarism problem head-on

The medical colloquium for advanced medical students in Münster, Germany, invited me to speak about plagiarism there on Nov. 15, 2014. VroniPlag Wiki has identified 23 medical doctoral dissertations from the University of Münster to date that have extensive text parallels that could constitute plagiarism, including one thesis with plagiarism on 100% of the pages. This was widely reported on in the local media, so they decided in addition to just inviting me to open the seminar for all members of the university, and invited alumni and the general public to attend as well.

Imagine 120-130 people in a typical medical school lecture theater with steep seating on a Friday afternoon at 4 pm. I was glad there was so much interest in the topic, and that the dean of the medical school, Wilhelm Schmitz, participated actively in the discussion.

After introducing the topic and noting that Münster has had plagiarisms documented in their school of law (Jam - Psc - Tr - Mb), in the political science department (Ahe), and a book published by a retired computer science professor withdrawn for extensive plagiarism from the Wikipedia (FAZ article), I pointed out that Münster had a case of a duplicate dissertation in 2011. At that time the dean had spoken of a singularity. Now, with 23 additional dissertations documented, it is clear that this is a systemic problem, not 23 additional singularities.

I spoke a bit about the history of doctoral degrees, drawing on the work of Ulrich Rasche (Geschichte der Promotion in absentia. Eine Studie zum Modernisierungsprozess der deutschen Universitäten im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. In: R. D. Schwinges (Ed.) Examen, Titel, Promotionen – Akademisches und staatliches Qualifikationswesen vom 13. bis zum 21. Jahrhundert . Basel:Schwabe, pp. 275–352, 2007;  Mommsen, Marx und May: Der Doktorhandel der deutschen Universitäten im 19. Jahrhundert und was wir daraus lernen sollten. In: Forschung & Lehre , No. 3, pp. 196–199, 2013) and then briefly presented Bernd Kramer's theory about why medical doctors in Germany are so in love with their titles. This has to do with the history of the field, Kramer postulates.

Early on the clergy was also occupied with health matters. Pope Alexander III proclaimed in 1163 at the Council of Tours that the clergy was not to sully their hands with blood. Two professions sprang up to fill the void, the academic internal medicine scholars and the practical surgeons. More and more "specialists" and quacks sprang up touting their sure-fire cures for what ails you. The academic doctors were often personal physicians to the aristocracy, making house calls at the castle. Even though they were just a special sort of servant, they were learned doctors of medicine.

When Otto von Bismarck introduced free health insurance in Germany at the end of the 19th century, Kramer theorizes, there was a sudden change. The free health care was only if you went to a medical doctor with a diploma, not any of the various quacks. The "unwashed workers" now came to the doctor's surgery, and the doctors needed something to make them feel special. So that was the doctoral degree, according to Kramer, that was a symbol held dear that needed to be obtained at all costs. For the general public, the difference between a quack and a real doctor was that the latter had a doctorate from a university. So it came to be taken as a sign of quality. Kramer goes on to note that the law profession soon picked this up as well.

So the main reason for getting a doctorate in medicine in Germany was to have that symbol of quality on the nameplate, not an interest in research. The quality of many of the dissertations leaves much to be desired. Even the Wissenschaftsrat, normally a very reserved body, lashed out at the medical profession in 2004, but this was generally ignored. A discussion arose in 2009 when Ulrike Beisiegel, at that time the Ombud for good scientific practice for the German research funding organization and currently the president of the University of Göttingen, published an article (p. 488-9) about "Türschildforschung", research for the name plates.

She met with a lot of resistance in the medical field, including a flaming defense (p. 582-583) of the current medical practice by Dieter Bitter-Suermann, the president of the medical school in Hanover and the chair of the German medical school association. He focused there on the quantity of dissertations accepted and stressed how important it was that students start to understand research as early as possible.

I then gave some examples of the plagiarism in Münster. In my experience, people will talk about cases of plagiarism only on the basis of what they have read in newspapers, they seldom make the effort to actually look at the documentation that is available online. This was shocking for the audience, as it was utterly clear that what they were seeing was unacceptable. When I got to the data falsification that was found by accident, a sort of of "collateral damage" while documenting plagiarism, the anger in the audience was palpable. Text is often seen as not so important, but making up data is a major violation of research ethics.

The closing of my talk was about possibilities for changing the situation, moving to avoidance of plagiarism and inculcation of good scientific practice. The medical school in Münster is already moving to include obligatory courses in scientific writing and the scientific process for their medical students, and they are examining all the dissertations accepted in the past few years with plagiarism software, although I explained to them that due to false negatives they will not find all the plagiarisms. Dean Schmitz noted that it was indeed a lot of hard work to interpret the results, but that it was necessary to take care of this now and then to see how to avoid plagiarisms being accepted in the future.

He then opened the floor for questions, and a lively, hour-long discussion ensued. We touched on questions of the role of the advisors, of how to properly reuse descriptions of methods, on the question of having a dual doctorate program, MDs for all, PhDs for those interested in research. Doctoral candidates asked about how to go about avoiding plagiarism, what they needed to reference, and also wondering who these VroniPlag Wiki people are, anyway.

An important point came up in connection with the scandal over plagiarism in habilitations in Freiburg that recently moved Handelsblatt to print the front page headline "Dr. med. plagiat". I noted that Münster does not oblige their researchers to print their habilitations and they do not even have to deposit a copy in the library. I had tried unsuccessfully to obtain a copy of one that was referenced in a dissertation. The dean was surprised - he thought that they, too, had to be published. He promised to look into the regulations for habilitations and to insist on them, too, being publicly available. Even it is an accumulated habilitation with a number of published journal articles bound together with an explaining text, it has to be possible for any researcher to see which journal articles were used.

The session closed at 6pm, but a long line formed up front with people who had personal questions. One was on how to deal with their advisors publishing their own work, one was on where to find more information on scientific writing. The speaker of the student's group was concerned that I was making the University of Münster look bad by only showing examples from Münster. I assured him that I had chosen Münster examples for this talk only, I normally have other examples that I use. But since I had such a wide selection of plagiarized medical text from Münster, it was natural to use them. A radio journalist hung around to interview the dean, me, and a number of students. (Link)

On a final note, I feel that the universities need to be utterly transparent about how they deal with cases of plagiarism. The informer and the accused need to be heard by the investigating committee. They need to be informed about how the investigation is proceeding, and that needs to be timely. It is inacceptable for a plagiarism investigation to take more than a year (some are currently entering their fourth year, probably because the universities in question hoped that the problem would go away if they ignored it). Especially when the plagiarism documentation was raised publicly, as is the case both in printed book reviews as well as online documentations of text parallels, the university needs to publicly announce the results.

Since the doctorate was granted in public, it must also be publicly announced when it has been rescinded. That means naming the person. If they published a plagiarism, they have to accept the consequences. If the degree is kept and the grade lowered, or an expression of concern written, this needs to made public as well. The text parallels are visible to all, as both dissertation and source are published. The reasons why this is acceptable need to made clear: perhaps the plagiarism was the other way around, the supposed source may have been published first. If the reason for not rescinding a doctorate is that the advisor told the doctoral student to do so, all the more reason for it to be made clear that this advisor has problems with good scientific practice. Science does not thrive in secrecy.

The introduction of lawyers into the process of determining bad scientific process does not help, either. The publisher of the plagiarism should respond to the accusations, explaining why the texts are the way they are, not send lawyers to find possible problems in the process. The university grants doctorates, and the university can take them away again. And the government should quit putting the doctorate on identification papers that alone would do a world of good.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chinese students in Australia use ghosting service

The Sydney Morning Herald and Western Australia Today are reporting on a Sydney company called MyMaster that is offering ghostwriting services to Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities. I've collected the links and the first paragraphs of the articles here. It is excellent to see such widespread reporting on academic misconduct.
  • WA's Curtin University caught in NSW 'essay writing' scandal
    "Western Australia's Curtin University has been caught up in a cash-for-results scandal involving thousands of students who paid a Sydney company up to $1000 each to write essays and assignments for them, as well as sit online tests." The article has links to other articles on grade changing scandals.
  • Students enlist MyMaster website to write essays, assignments
    "Thousands of students have enlisted a Sydney company to write essays and assignments for them as well as sit online tests, paying up to $1000 for the service. Their desire to succeed threatens the credibility and international standing of some of our most prestigious institutions."
  • Students buying assignments online could be charged with fraud
    "Students who pay essay writing services to complete their university assignments are not only breaching university plagiarism protocols but could also be charged with fraudulent conduct under NSW [New South Wales] legislation, legal experts say."
  • Yingying Dou: The mastermind behind the University essay writing machine
    "At the helm of the company embroiled in a large-scale academic cheating scandal is a Chinese-born businesswoman named Yingying Dou. The enterprising 30-year-old, who also goes by 'Serena', has used her accounting degree to build a lucrative ghostwriting service, called MyMaster, aimed at Chinese international students."
  • Yingying Dou takes the day off as students and tutors tell of others who cheat
    "Tutors and students at Yingcredible Tutoring, the coaching college run by the mastermind of essay-selling website MyMaster, Yingying Dou, have spoken of the widespread practice of international students paying for university essays as they struggle with language barriers."
  • Universities in damage control after widespread cheating revealed
    "NSW universities are in damage control following a Fairfax Media investigation that revealed hundreds of students across the state were engaging the services of an online essay writing business.
    On Wednesday, the Herald exposed an online business called MyMaster, run out of Sydney's Chinatown, that had provided more than 900 assignments to students from almost every university in NSW, turning over at least $160,000 in 2014."
The site has now been taken offline.
Thanks to Sven for spotting these articles!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Short links

Here are some diverse and interesting links from the world of academic misconduct:
  • Research misconduct in Australia: The article in Mark Israel's Blog "The Conversation" lists a number of cases of research misconduct that have been made public in Australia, including a recent one at the University of Queensland.
    "Bruce Murdoch and Caroline Barwood resigned from the University of Queensland in 2013 after a whistleblower claimed that they had not undertaken an experiment on Parkinson’s, despite reporting results in various journals. [...] The university failed to find any evidence that the experiment had been conducted. Instead, it discovered duplicate publication, statistical error and misattribution of authorship."
  • The new president of the German "Federation of Expellees" organization, (Bund der Vertriebenen), Bernd Fabritius, is originally from Romania (he belongs to the German minority there) and did his doctorate in Hermannstadt/Sibiu and in Tübingen. A fascinating 54-page documentation of text parallels and other problems with this thesis was published recently online.
    The text was photographed using pens to mark the text and then boxes and explaining text were added to the pictures. A discussion of the documentation (in German) can be found in the Blog Erbloggtes.
  • The Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Germany considered awarding former Minister of Education Annette Schavan (who was found to have plagiarized in her dissertation) the Leibniz medal which is given in honor of outstanding service for the promotion of the goals of the Academy („zur Ehrung besonderer Verdienste um die Förderung der Aufgaben der Akademie“). Apparently, though, there was no unanimous vote, and the discussion leaked its way into the newspapers. There is also more biting commentary on the research group "Zitat und Paraphrase" (quotation and paraphrase) in the Causa Schavan blog ([1] - [2], in German)
  • Dr. med. plagiat: The German newspaper Handelsblatt has an extensive report on the plagiarism scandal in medicine at the University of Freiburg, the University of Münster and the Charité. 
  • There is a call for papers out (abstract submission deadline: November 16, 2014) for an international conference on plagiarism at the Mendel University in Brno, Czech Republic 10 - 12 June 2015 "PLAGIARISM ACROSS EUROPE AND BEYOND" ( Disclosure: I am on the program committee).
  • I found an IFQ report (in German) from 2006 on the history of doctorates in Germany with some interesting statistics on the prevalence of doctorates in various fields.
  • It seems that Elsevier has been charging 30$ for copies of book chapters that consist only of one page containing the wording "This page intentionally left blank". A tongue-in-cheek systematic review has been published, and indeed, if one googles "This page is intentionally left blank" together with "site:" there are 55 hits across a wide spectrum of fields. Apparently, the automatic publishing system has trouble with blank pages, or else the blank pages were not caught during the rigorous peer review.
  • Widely off topic: There is even a Lego figurine for a university graduate in a cap & gown.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

intihal - Plagiarism in Turkey

Eurasian Institute Lecture Hall
I was recently invited to speak at a symposium organized by the Inter-Universities Ethics Platform and held at the Eurasian Institute of the University of Istanbul on October 17, 2014. They kindly organized two interpreters who took turns interpreting the talks given in Turkish for me, and my talk into Turkish for those who had need of it. Apparently, even in academic circles English is not a common language. I will describe the talks as far as I was able to understand them here. The conference was focused on intihal, the Turkish word for plagiarism.

The deputy rector of the Istanbul University welcomed the 60-70 people present (more would come and go during the course of the day), noting that he himself is the editor of an international journal that tests articles submitted for plagiarism. They reject half of the articles submitted for this reason.

The first speaker was Hasan Yazıcı, a retired professor of rheumatology who sued the Turkish government in the European Court of Human Rights and won. He first described his case, which was recently decided (April 2014) and is available online. Since he was speaking to a room of people who had followed the case more or less closely, he did not go into details, but they are given in the judgement:
In 1997 Yazıcı had informed the Turkish Academy of Sciences that a book by a Turkish professor (I.D.) and the founder and former president of the Higher Education Council of Turkey (YÖK) entitled Mother's Book was basically a plagiarism of the popular US book on rearing children by Dr. Spock, Baby and Childcare. In 2000 Yazıcı  published an article about the plagiarism in the Turkish Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a shortened version in a Turkish daily newspaper.

In the article Yazıcı praised YÖK for establishing a committee to examine the scientific ethics of candidates for associate professorships, and proposed that YÖK start the conversation about plagiarism by asking their founder to apologize for the plagiarism in his book. In response, I.D. filed charges against Yazıcı, stating that this publication violated his personality rights. In the following six years the case wound its way back and forth through the court system, with expert witnesses who were close colleagues of I.D. stating that they found no plagiarism in the book, but that the passages in question were "anonymous" information regarding child health and care and that this was a handbook without bibliography or sources, not a scientific work. Yazıcı was found guilty of defamation because his allegations were thus untrue and fined. Yazıcı challenged the selection of experts, and the Court of Cassation kept referring the case back to the lower courts. Again and again close friends were appointed experts, found no plagiarism, and thus Yazıcı was found to be guilty.
Yazıcı finally gave up on the Turkish courts, paid the fine, but took took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, stating that his right to freedom of expression—here stating that he found the book to be a plagiarism—had been interfered with and that the Turkish courts had not properly dealt with the case. He noted that due to the plagiarism, there was outdated information on baby sleeping positions in the book that had been updated by Dr. Spock in his 1998 edition, but was not changed by I.D. The European court found in its judgement that it is indeed necessary in a democratic society for persons to be able to state value judgements, which are impossible to prove either true or false. However, there must exist a sufficient factual basis, so the court (p. 13), to support the value judgement. In this case, the court found sufficient factual basis for the allegations, and ordered the fine paid by Yazıcı to be refunded and his costs for the court cases to be reimbursed.
Yazıcı made the point in his speech that the extent of plagiarism in a country correlates strongly with a lack of freedom of speech. He sees Turkey in the same league as China on this aspect. He noted that everyone knows about plagiarism, but no one speaks about it.
In order to decrease plagiarism we have to speak about plagiarism. He stated in later discussions that it is imperative that Turkish judges understand what plagiarism is, most particularly because there is a law in Turkey now declaring that plagiarism is a crime punishable by prison, but it is still not clear what exactly constitute plagiarism.

The second talk on "Plagiarism and Philosophy of Law" was given by Sevtap Metin. She described the Turkish legal situation, in particular the law of intellectual property. She noted that there are many sanctions for plagiarism, for example academics can be cut off from their university jobs or from funding. She also described the process for application for a professorship and noted that the committees are currently not doing their job in vetting the publications provided by the applicants. The reason for this is that if they note a suspicion of plagiarism that they cannot prove, they can be sued for defamation of character by the applicant. This discourages people from looking closely at publication lists. However, with Yazıcı recently winning his case in the EU, it must now be possible to speak freely about plagiarism. Citing Kant's categorical imperative, she feels that we must not plagiarize unless we want everyone to plagiarize. And if we tell our children not to lie, but lie ourselves, they will follow our actions and not our words.

The third talk was by Mustafa Kıcalıoğlu, a former judge now retired from the Court of Cassation, on "Plagiarism in Turkish Law." He spoke about the problems that occur in plagiarism cases in which personality rights have to be weighed against intellectual property rights. He noted that Ernst Eduard Hirsch, a German legal expert who taught at the University of Ankara, was instrumental in drafting the Turkish Copyright Act. Kıcalıoğlu went into some detail on copyright and intellectual property, I noted in the discussion that plagiarism and violation of copyright are not the same things: there is plagiarism that does not violate copyright law and violations of copyright law that are not plagiarisms. Kıcalıoğlu also discussed another long, drawn out plagiarism case of a business management professor who plagiarized on 65 out of 500 pages in a book. He was demoted from the faculty after YÖK found that he had plagiarized, and he sued YÖK, but lost. This person is now a high government official. The discussion on this talk was quite long and emotional, as many people in the audience wanted to relate a story or call for all academic institutions to take action against plagiarism.

After a lunch and tea break I photographed this fine stature of a dervish before we got into the technical part of the symposium. Altan Gürsel of TechKnowledge, the Turkey and Middle East representatives of iParadigms (the company that markets Turnitin and iThenticate), spoke about that software. He first gave the definition of intihal from the Turkish Wikipedia, showed a few cases of cheating that made the news, and then launched into the standard Turnitin talk. He did note, however, that the reports have to be interpreted by and expert and cannot determine plagiarism, so it appears that my constant repeating of this has at least been understood by the software companies themselves, if not all of the users of such systems. He reported on some new features of Turnitin, for example that now also Excel sheets can be checked, and Google Drive and Dropbox can be used for submitting work. In answering a question, he noted that YÖK now scans all dissertations handed in to Turkish universities with iThenticate, but not those from the past. They are planning on including open access dissertations in the future in their database.

I gave my standard talk on the "Chances and Limits of Plagiarism Software", noting that software cannot determine plagiarism, it can only indicate possible plagiarism, and that there are many false positives and false negatives. During questions a number of people were perplexed that there were so many plagiarisms documented in doctoral dissertations in Germany, since dissertations need to be original research and Germany has a reputation as having a solid academic tradition. They had only heard about the politicians being forced to resign, and wanted to know what was different in Germany that a politician would actually resign on the basis of plagiarism found in his dissertation. They wanted to know if judges in Germany understand plagiarism. I noted that indeed, they understand plagiarism much better than many universities and persons suing their universities because their doctoral degree have been rescinded. The judgements of the VG Cologne and the VG Düsseldorf are very clear and very exact in their application of law to plagiarism cases, as are the judgements in many other cases.

After a tea break Tayfun Akgül, a professor of Electrical Engineering at the Technical University of Istanbul and the Ethics and Member Conduct Committee of the IEEE spoke on "Plagiarism in Science." Akgül is also a professional cartoonist, with a lively presentation peppered with cartoons that kept the audience laughing and caused the interpreters to apologize for not being able to translate them. He outlined the IEEE organizations and policies for dealing with scientific misconduct on the part of its members. He spoke at length about the case of Turkish physicists having to retract almost 70 papers from the preprint server arXiv. Nature reported on the case in 2007, the authors complained thereafter that they were just borrowing better English.

Özgür Kasapçopur, the speaker of the ethics committee of the Istanbul University gave the facts and figures of the committee itself and the cases that it has looked at since it was set up in 2010. They have had 29 cases submitted to the committee, but only determined plagiarism in 3 cases.

Nuran Yıldırım spoke about YÖK and plagiarism. She is a former prefect who was on the ethical boards of both the University of Istanbul and YÖK. The Higher Education Council was established in 1981. From 1998 plagiarism was added to the cases that are investigated there, as plagiarism is considered a crime that can incur a sanction. However, there was only a 2 year statute of limitations in place. This has been since removed, and all applications for assistant professor need to be investigated by YÖK. If they find plagiarism, they have a process to follow and if plagiarism is the final decision, the person applying for a professorship is removed from the university. However, this harsh sentence has now been changed to "more reasonable punishments", whatever that is. She noted that at small universities it is hard to have only a local hearing, as often the members of the committee to investigate a case are relatives of the accused. She had some fascinating stories, especially from the military universities, including one about a General Prof. Dr. found to have plagiarized. She also noted that people do accuse their rivals of plagiarism just to try and get them out of the way. Her final story was about someone who published a dissertation, and eventually found that all of his tables and data were being used in a paper by someone else. He informed YÖK, and the second researcher defended himself by saying that he had used the same laboratory, the lab must have confused the results and given him the results from the other person instead. YÖK then requested the lab notebooks from both parties, only the author of the dissertation could produce them. Since the journal paper author couldn't find his, he was found guilty of plagiarism.

In the final round, İlhan İlkılıç, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Istanbul, on leave from the University of Mainz and a member of the German national ethics committee, presented a to-do list that included setting out better definitions of plagiarism and academic misconduct and finding ways of objectively looking at plagiarism without personal hostilities or ideologies getting in the way. Discussion about plagiarism is essential, even if it won't prevent plagiarism or scientific misconduct from happening.

Sadat Murat, chairman of the Turkish national ethics committee, spoke about their work which is to investigate complaints about state servants. However, exempt from this are low-level state servants, as well as the top-ranking politicians. They only report on violations, however, they cannot sanction. They also try to disseminate ethical culture in Turkey by providing ethics training.

I especially want to thank the interpreters for their work—any errors here are mine for not paying exact attention, they did a great job permitting me to understand a small portion of what is happening in the area of intihal in Turkey.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Belgian Rector resigns over plagiarized speech

The rector of the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, Alain Delchambre, gave a speech on the opening day of the academic year on Sept. 19, 2014 that turned out to have been heavily plagiarized from a number of sources, among them former French president Jacques Chirac, according to media reports (French: Le Monde [paywall], La Libre [with a good synopsis of the plagiarized portions], Flemish: Staandard ). The speech was written by a speech writer who was summarily fired on the spot.

German Spiegel Online reports that Delchambre has resigned, as the university takes a hard line against plagiarists among the students, and Delchambre felt that this step was in the best interests of the institution. Of course, it took a media outrage to encourage him to take this step, but this is, perhaps, a warning signal to others: If you must use a speechwriter, make it clear that plagiarism (from the Wikipedia or elsewhere) is not going to be tolerated.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Quick PhD

The newspaper "The Herald", owned by the state of Zimbabwe, reports that first lady Grace Mugabe was awarded a PhD in sociology by the chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe, her husband and ruler of the country Robert Mugabe. The Guardian, enhancing the story with many details, points to The Standard's quite critical report. It seems that Mrs. Mugabe's first degree, in Chinese, was awarded in 2011 on the basis of a correspondence course from the People’s University of China.

It is not clear how the former secretary, who apparently dismally failed a Bachelor of Arts program at the University of London in 2001, completed the necessary coursework in sociology, conducted the research, and wrote the thesis. The registration for the degree happened just a few months ago. One does hope that the thesis will be published, so that the scientific community can have a closer look at the research - and the writing.