Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hitting hard against diploma mills

Wired has an excellent in-depth article by David Wolman: "Fraud U: Toppling a Bogus-Diploma Empire" about the efforts of George Gollin to bring down at least one of the many diploma mills currently operating, St. Regis. The people running the operation are now currently in jail (on charges of mail trafficking and bribing and whatnot), and Gollin is pushing legislation to make it harder to set up operations like this.

Gollin keeps a looooong page on Information resources concerning unaccredited degree-granting institutions with an enormous collection of links and some tools for investigating fake degrees.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Researchers admit to self-plagiarism, withdraw paper

[finally clearing out a large backlog, sorry about that - dww]

Spiegel online reports that stem cell researchers Karim Nayernia from Newcastle University and Wolfgang Engel from the University of Göttingen (yes, the German university of fabricated publications fame) have withdrawn a paper they published in July 2009 in "Stem Cells and Development" about producing male sperm from stem cells.

The research has caused quite a stir, so the withdrawal has also been disturbing. It appears that a large part of the introduction is a self-plagiarism without source from a previous paper published by the research group. Additionally, one of the authors listed on the paper states that he did not read the paper before it was published.

Nayernia and Engel insist that the data is valid, and regret the unintended self-plagiarism. Further reports say that the researcher responsible for the plagiarism has been fired.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

German court finds ghostwriting okay

A terrible backlog of articles about plagiarism has accumulated. I hope to clear it out over the holidays. Since this one just surfaced in the German mainstream media, I'll link it here:

The Frankfurter Rundschau (and the Berliner Zeitung) ran an article by Hermann Horstkotte about the judgment taken in September by the High Court in Frankfurt/Main about a plagiarism case.

An honorary professor (who also happens to be responsible for corporate social responsibility at a large German company) hired a ghostwriter in 2002 to write an article for him. The article appeared in a journal under the name of the honorary professor, with just a footnote thanking the true author, who was an employee at that time.

Four years later the employee discovers this article in the literature list of the honorary professor. And since this person is now in business for himself, he doesn't like the idea of his own work being used by the other guy, and he requests from him removal of the work from his literature list (which he complies with) and a signature under a cease-and-desist order (which he refuses).

It ends up in court, and the court decides, that since the honorary professor is not a "real" member of the university, this is just a normal text-writing contract and is fine. That this is against university policy, German research system policy, and is highly unethical, has nothing to do with German law.

A university spokesman said that the university will strengthen its efforts to make it clear that ghostwriting is unacceptable, both for students and for professors.

I feel that if the courts make such a distinction between honorary and "real" professors, then we need to get rid of honorary professors. They should be held to the same standards as the rest of us, or they can't print "Prof." on their calling cards.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Comparison of two Doctoral Theses

A German blogger compares two Doctoral Theses: (in German)

Plagiarism Conference 2010

From my mailbox:

The Fourth International Plagiarism Conference, will take place on 21-23 June 2010 at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. The deadline for extended abstracts of 1000 words and proposals is 29 January, 2010.

Papers, posters, video and workshop submissions are invited on the following themes:
  • Creating a culture of honesty
  • Ensuring authenticity in non text-based disciplines and multimedia
  • Addressing non-traditional learning styles (e.g. overseas students, mature students etc)
  • Ensuring the integrity of research and published work
  • Open theme. Suggested topics include: innovative assessment techniques beyond the essay, the changing nature of authorship in a Web 2.0 world, contract cheating, plagiarism detection
Further details may be found at

This fourth biennial conference, hosted by, and sponsored by Ofqual draws together delegates from the international educational community. In 2008 250 delegates from schools, colleges, universities, awarding and regulatory bodies along with commercial organizations from around the world met to share their experiences and expertise in this key area.

Keynote speakers
  • Isabel Nisbet, Acting Chief Executive, Ofqua
  • Jude Carroll, Deputy Director of the ASKe CETL at Oxford Brookes University, UK.
  • Dr Teddi Fishman, Director of the Center for Academic Integrity, US.
  • Adrian Slater, Head of Legal Services at the University of Leeds, UK.
Further information and registration details can be found at

Impact Factor

The blog Mathlog comments in German on a publication in SIAM News by Douglas N. Arnold Integrity Under Attack: The State of Scholarly Publishing.

The publication stems from a report on a particularly disturbing plagiarism series involving 5 plagiarisms by the same duo, M. Sreenivas and T. Srinivas. It seems that the first author was a student of the second one and used the professor's name on the paper without his knowledge. However, Srinivas had the papers listed on his publication list at the department.

The publication goes on to list a number of cases, many of which have been discussed here. A new one is the impact factor of the International Journal of Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation (IJNSNS). I quote a paragraph here from Arnold's paper:
Let me describe another element that contributes to IJNSNS's high impact factor. The Institute of Physics (IOP) publishes Journal of Physics: Conference Series (JPCS). Conference organizers pay to
have proceedings of their conferences published in JPCS, and, in the words of IOP, “JPCS asks Conference Organisers to handle the peer review of all papers.” Neither the brochure nor the website
for JPCS lists an editorial board, nor does either describe any process for judging the quality of the conferences. Nonetheless, Thomson Reuters counts citations from JPCS in calculating impact factors.
One of the 49 volumes of JPCS in 2008 was the proceedings of a conference organized by IJNSNS editor-in-chief He at his home campus, Shanghai Donghua University. This one volume contained 221 papers, with 366 references to papers in IJNSNS and 353 references to He. To give you an idea of the effect of this, had IJNSNS not received a single citation in 2008 beyond the ones in this conference proceedings, it would still have been assigned a larger impact factor than any SIAM journal except for SIAM Review.
Hmm - I have a number of Chinese conferences on my dodgy list. Perhaps Chinese conferences should be excluded from the calculation of impact factors? And journals need to institute some real peer review (and not just payment for publication). It also shows that the impact factor is broken, if it can be easily gamed like this. Arnold summarizes his criticism of reliance on bibliometrics: "Counting can never replace expert opinion."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Microsoft Admits Plagiarizing Code

Microsoft has admitted plagiarizing code for the Chinese interface for their MSN-Buddy.

Is this the current trend? Plagiarize, and then apologize if caught? I hope not.