Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sham Colleges in the UK

The Times reports extensively on May 21, 2009 about sham colleges in the UK selling letters of admission, attendance certificates, and fake degrees to students - many from Pakistan - who want to enter the UK. There appears to be a loophole in the entry process to the UK that does not check if the colleges in question are actually reputable organizations.

Many are just a few rooms and have maybe three teachers, but have a student body of over 1000 students. Fayaz Ali Khan, who owned Manchester College of Professional Studies among other schools, also gave himself fake degrees and has quite a glowing CV filled with wonderful positions such as full-time director of education at Swat College of Education (in Islamabad) at the same time he was taking a degree in computer technology at the age of 20.

The sham colleges have come under sharp scrutiny when it was discovered that eight of ten terror suspects picked up in April had degrees from sham institutions. And four of these had used these fake degrees to obtain admission to legitimate schools.

This does seem to make a case for accreditation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Modern Applied Science - another Fake Journal?

I got this in my email the other day, with a request to pass it on to my associates and colleagues. As a friend pointed out, the verb "focus" when applied to such a variety of topics is amusing.
Dear Sir/Madam,
I am Susan Sun, the editor of Modern Applied Science which focuses on the fields of chemistry, management and economics, physics, mathematics and statistics, geology, engineering, environmental sciences and biology. And I know you are an expert in this field, so we would like to get paper submissions from you.

Please find more details at http://www.ccsenet.org/mas/.

If you have any questions, please contact with me at: mas@ccsenet.org

It is appreciated if you could share this information with your colleagues and associates.

Thank you.

Note: We are recruiting reviewers for the journal, please find more details at: http://www.ccsenet.org/reviewer.html

Best Regards,

Susan Sun
Modern Applied Science
Canadian Center of Science and Education
Add: 4915 Bathurst St. Unit #209-309, Toronto, ON. M2R 1X9, Canada
Tel: 1-416-208-4027
Fax: 1-416-208-4028
E-mail: mas@ccsenet.org
Website: www.ccsenet.org
The CCSE has a web site and publishes lots of journals. Its advertising page is on lots of blogs - but it is, if anything, a NGO with no official ties to the government of Canada.

The editor, Susan Sun, can be found with this gem published:

Recycling Economy and Sustainable Development
Susan Sun

Economic development is the main theme of social progress. By recalling the economic development, the necessity and inevitability of sustainable development is fully demonstrated. With the acceleration of economic globalization, the influence for sustainable development is increasing. There is a complex opposite and united relationship between economic globalization and sustainable development. People are seeking a way to eliminate confrontation and get united. In social practice, we found that the recycling economy is the best way to achieve sustainable development, and it is an important embodiment of the economic, social and ecological sustainability.
Sounds like gobbelty-gook to me.

So how does one tell if a journal is legit? They have a web site! It's new, so no one has quoted it yet. But the very broad scope of the journal quite disturbs me and leads me to think that this is yet another fake journal. Does anyone have more information on this organization, beside their own online information that is all from March 2009 or later? Google maps points to a car lot for the address given. That would make it hard to get mail, I suppose...

Update: 2013-04-22: Link for the journals fixed

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Tongue in Cheek Plagiarism

One of the Swedish defendants in the Pirate Bay case in which the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, IFPI, took the owners of the Pirate Bay site to court and won millions of Swedish crowns) has set up a site http://www.internetavgift.se/ which is a plagiarism of the Swedish TV license site http://www.radiotjanst.se/. In many European countries you have to pay a license to watch TV, the fees are used to pay for public broadcasting. Many people feel that this is very problematic, as they do not watch public broadcasting, preferring the private channels (which have advertising).

On the page they present a very complicated formula for figuring out the tax - which amounts to one Swedish crown, which is the smallest amount that can be transferred from one account to the next. The account which is listed for payment is the account of the lawyers for IFPI.

In Sweden, your bank will charge you up to 20 crowns (about $2.50) for money put into your account. In addition, the lawyers are legally required to do all sorts of bookkeeping tasks around any money they take in. The lawyers have threatened to find some way of forcing them to take down this site.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tour of an Essay Mill

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a video tour of an essay mill. It is great. The funniest thing for me is the notice for essay authors after logging in (mark 3:20):

Please, stop using Turnitin Software!

Since Turnitin stores the papers in its databases, if a plagiarism-free paper is checked with Turnitin and then submitted again by the student, it will be now be flagged as a plagiarism, causing much dismay for the dishonest student.

What I find dismaying is that the essay authors are only paid so little for there work. The mills are making an enormous amount of money on this operation. I find ads that charge 30$ / page for an original paper, but the authors seem to only be offered 3-5$ a page.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fake Journals

Now we not only have fake conferences and invented publications. If you have enough money (as pharmaceutical companies do), you can just purchase your own fancy-schmancy, scientific-sounding journal from a reputable publisher. Or shall we say, previously reputable. Now that six of their thousands of journals have been identified as fakes, maybe we should just assume that the rest are also problematic and proceed to take our papers to Open Access journals.

But let's start at the top. Many blogs (such as bioethics.net) and The Scientist reported that pharmaceutical company Merck was behind the "Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine". It looked like a real journal. It had real-looking articles in it, although they were reprints or summaries of other journal's research, all strangely enough favorable about Merck products. Summer Johnson on the bioethics blog points out the problem with this:
What’s wrong with this is so obvious it doesn’t have to be argued for. What’s sad is that I’m sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, “As published in Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications….” Said doctor, or even the average researcher wouldn’t know that the journal is bogus. In fact, knowing that the journal is published by Elsevier gives it credibility!
Right. Elsevier used to be a respected name in scientific publishing. The Guardian quotes a spokesman as saying that the publisher does not consider this a journal, as it is a compilation of reprinted articles. Then why does it have the word "Journal" in its title?

Laika's MedLibLog goes on to explain how some of the articles that were reprinted got themselves published in the first place: the company sponsors the research, and then employees of the company offer manuscripts to the academic investigators, who put their name on the paper (and sometimes forget the footnote explaining who paid for the research). So we have a "journal" with reprints of ghostwritten articles.

The Scientist has now found 6 similar journals:
  • the Australasian Journal of General Practice
  • the Australasian Journal of Neurology
  • the Australasian Journal of Cardiology
  • the Australasian Journal of Clinical Pharmacy
  • the Australasian Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, and
  • the Australasian Journal of Bone & Joint Medicine.
Elsevier would not tell The Scientist the names of the companies sponsoring these titles.

Yes, the mother company regrets what its Australia division has been up to. And the people responsible apparently don't work there any more.

But how can we know for sure that the next Elsevier journal that we hold in our hands is legit? That it declares all of its interests and who paid for and wrote the research?

Can we now declare the peer-review system for journal articles officially broken? Can we also quit counting number of articles and impact factors and just have people submit the 3 of 5 most important papers they have written when they are evaluated?

Oh, the Elsevier statement is linked from their home page....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Invented Publications

The German news magazine Spiegel reports on a major scandal at the University of Göttingen. An interdisciplinary group of sixteen scientists researching the rain forest in Indonesia had previously been awarded a prestigious "Sonderforschungsbereich" (SFB) by the German research foundation, DFG. The researchers were applying for an 8.6 million Euro extension of the research project.

But the external reviewers were quite irritated - they couldn't find many of the supposed publications listed on the report for how the first grant had been used. After an internal university investigation, it was determined that the publications did not, in fact, exist. The university withdrew the grant application.

There will now be more exact scrutiny of the money spent up until now, and whether it was used for the research or for other purposes. And another research group at the same university on biodiversity is currently under investigation for similar problems, according to the university president, who is worried as to how these incidents will affect the reputation of the university.

The University of Göttingen has been awarded "elite" status by the German government. On the one hand, it is questionable if this status is compatible with such goings-on, especially if they are regularly happening. On the other hand, the university is acting correctly in investigating the cases and in withdrawing the application. One wonders how many universities just sweep things like this under the carpet after rapping the knuckles of the parties involved.

One does, however, hope that the principle investigators will be degraded to cleaning toilets or some such punishment and not continue researching at full pay. I can't find a statement about the situation on the home pages of the university, but I do see that there will be a seminar on reputation management this coming week. I suppose the university will be sending someone to audit the course.