Thursday, January 24, 2008

Duplicate papers

Nature reports (Errami, M. & Garner, H. Nature 451, 397-399 (2008) ) on research done by two Texas researchers who investigated 62,000 papers available online in the Medline database. They were looking for plagiarism and autoplagiarism (publishing one paper in multiple journals) and found about 1% using their tool, eTBLAST, a "text similarity-based engine for searching literature collections".

As usual, any mention of the words "plagiarism" and "Internet" in the same paragraph causes journalists to suspect that plagiarism is "on the rise" and the call and try and get me to verify this, which I refuse to do. We can't measure the amount of plagiarism, only the amount of what we find. So if we can't measure it, we can't say if it is increasing or decreasing. At least this gave me a chance to spout off on some of my favorite topics, and they broadcast a large portion of my interview this afternoon on Deutschlandradio.

Duplicate papers are indeed a problem. Sometimes, one has a minor bit of new material, and wants to republish. I have even had a journal approach me and insist on paying for a translator to translate my paper on plagiarism into English to be published in their journal. I only permitted them to do this if they let me check the translation (it was not good, would have been easier to do it myself) and if they included a footnote explicitly stating that this was a translation of a previous paper).

But apparently, in the quest for AMPAP (as many publications as possible) people submit multiple copies of papers to different journals in the hopes that no one looks at them side by side and discovery them to be identical.

Is it "okay" to plagiarize oneself on the level of paragraphs or sentences? It also looks bad when a paper consists mostly of quotes of one's own work.

Another fine line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book about Women Writers a Plagiarism

The Bavarian TV station Bayrischen Rundfunk reports (Skandal um "Verbrannte Dichterinnen") that the publisher Artemis & Winkler has withdrawn the book "Verbrannte Dichterinnen" (Women writers whose books were burned in the Third Reich) by Edda Ziegler after an accusation of plagiarism by the Munich scholar Hiltrud Häntzschel, who had published many books about these women.

Häntzschel found over 170 parts of the book that took her words, changing the syntax slightly or the verb tenses, but followed her publications very closely. The publisher agrees, and has withdrawn the unsold volumes. It has announced a reprint with footnotes.

Ziegler does not see what she did as plagiarism. She says she was just following the "rules of popular science writing". She used many quotes, but did not bother with footnotes, which are disdained by critics and the popular press.

"But does this give one a charter for copying?", BR asks. "How about doing one's own research, one's own concept, and one's own writing so as to avoid the footnotes?" Ziegler feels that she was just taking what she had read and putting it into a more readable form. BR does not consider this authorship.

BR has a 3:29 minute interview with both authors (in German) available online.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blackboard offers SafeAssign in Dutch deal reports that Blackboard is offering SafeAssign for its Dutch customers in a nationwide learning management system agreement.

We noted the purchase of the software by Blackboard in August 2007 during our test of plagiarism detection systems, but were not able to test SafeAssign, neé MyDropBox. Our first few tests of MyDropBox encountered errors, after finding a press release speaking of the purchase we tried to contact Blackboard twice, but they did not return our calls.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Online Workshop

Just received this letter. Okay, it's advertising, but the topic is relevant to this blog, so here it is!

Dr. Weber-Wulff,
Our upcoming online workshop may be of interest to your readers. Please consider posting to your blog. Thank you.
In recent years, plagiarism and cheating have been highlighted in the news. Whether discussing high-profile cases like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin or reviewing works on the subject by notables like Judge Richard Posner, the public appears keenly interested in plagiarism. Plagiarism detection devices, once all the rage are, with greater intensity, being challenged legally and ethically as inappropriate vehicles for detecting plagiarism. Most recently, is in the middle of litigation challenging its business practices as violations of copyright law.

Please join the Center for Intellectual Property as we attempt to address the plagiarism and cheating issues on college campuses and try to build communities that value academic integrity.
Building a Community that Values Academic Integrity
Dates: February 25 - March 7, 2008
Moderators: Gary Pavela, M.A., J.D., Director of Judicial Programs and Student Ethical Development, University of Maryland -- College Park & Kimberly Bonner, J.D., Executive Director, Center for Intellectual Property, University of Maryland University College

Studies show that establishing a community of shared academic values fosters academic integrity in the classroom. However, establishing that community may be more difficult when students adopt the values of a digital "remix" culture that challenges the traditional understanding of authorship. How do institutions foster academic integrity values in light of changing cultural norms? Are there special techniques and tools required? Are the best tools to use in preventing academic dishonesty "technical" like And are there additional legal and ethical issues involved when using technical measures to prevent academic dishonesty? Please see site for detailed course objectives-

Early Bird Rates $150 [Secured Server]

Online Workshop FAQ-
For more on the Center for Intellectual Property's resources & services
please see our homepage-

Sunday, January 13, 2008

UK Plagiarism Conference


"The 3rd International Plagiarism Conference, which is being managed by Northumbria Learning, examines the challenges facing institutions as they evolve solutions to the issue of ensuring authenticity in learners' work in a changing information environment. The conference will seek to consider best practice from secondary through to higher education. The need for a cross-sectoral approach is reflected in the joint sponsorship of the conference by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fake Universities

I was alerted by Dr. Free-Ride in her "Adventures in Ethics and Science" blog to the BBC uncovering a scam university in England, the "Irish International University". It seems that this outfit has been in operation for seven years, enabling young people from developing countries who pay the tuition to enter the UK.

They are awarded "credit" for all sorts of activities, and awarded their diplomas in impressive ceremonies in rooms rented at the University of Oxford and Cambridge. The IIU is of course accredited - but by an organization that appears to belong to the president as well, and is not actually recognized by any governmental bodies (besides the tax office and the post office, one assumes) in the UK.

This demonstrates the problem of who accredits the accreditation officials. And demonstrates that people desperate for (Western) degrees, but especially people from developing countries, are willing to pay for their certificates.

The IIU even offers an online form for verifying the graduates. This is a simple PHP script, and they explain clearly the structure of the student numbers: 4 digits. The second one I tried was a hit, and I obtained the name, photo, passport number, course program and "graduation year". I suppose this is so that employers can "verify" the degrees. And my, the pictures are grand, with robes and all.

What a find for identity thieves - during a rather long-winded session in which I had WLAN access I determined that the student numbers are assigned sequentially between 2000 and 2462, starting again at 4349 and running to 5145. Extremely primitive programming, I was not locked out upon trying sequential numbers.

Continuing on I chose Hans J. Kempe, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. I chose him because his picture looked so strange, sort of a handyman playing dressup. And indeed, a quick Google search turns him up: he's a tool and die maker, who has amassed titles and jobs that sound very grand. I stumbled over his degree as a "Doctor of Naturopathy". What on earth is that?

Googling again I find Canyon College, a college in Idaho that lets you register online and get degrees in all sorts of fields. The page states, of course, that "Enrollment not available to Idaho residents". Checking Google maps, we find the street address has 2 houses, across from the Vallivue school. How do they get all these programs into these two houses?

What is Naturopathy? This seems to be some sort of quackery, according to Quackwatch. Oh, and this is the Clayton College the esteemed Mr. Kempe has his named degree from. All of the others are degrees without names of the institutions.

These fake "universities" seem to be all over the place. How does a student find a reputable institution? How do employers or other universities find out if the degrees presented are reputable?

Update: More links about fake universities:

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


PlagiarismToday alerted me to a new software for plagiarism detection, BitScan. Since it just wanted URLs and 20 tests were free, I couldn't resist trying a few of my tests on the quick:
  • Viking - a trivial shake-and-paste plagiarism of one source: the source and only the source was found
  • Döner - a complicated three-source plagiarism with Wikipedia: two mirrors of Wikipedia found, no other sources
  • Jelinek - another three-source plagiarism with an automatic translation: one of the three sources found as the only source
  • Djembe - an impossible (for machines) machine translation: nothing found
  • Lettau - an easy plagiarism of the German Wikipedia (his publication list also appears 1:1 in the English-language Wikipedia: nothing found
  • Blogs - a plagiarism from a pdf: nothing found
  • Atwood - a trivial plagiarism from Amazon: found, along with some copies
Okay, that's about par for the course. Flipping a coin is at least as good. I will put it on my list for a future test, though. Maybe they will have done some fine-tuning by then.