Saturday, February 27, 2010

Plagiarius Awards 2010

The prizewinners have been named for the Plagiarius competition 2010. A jury of designers, intellectual property specialists, economists, and media people had a hard pick between the 43 nominations. Looking at the winners one gets the impression of seeing double.

The award, a black garden dwarf with a golden nose (spoofing the German saying "earning yourself a golden nose), never seems to be picked up. The exhibits can be seen at the museum in Solingen.

Plagiarism and no end

In the never-ending story of Helene Hegemann and her plagiarism in the book "Axolotl Roadkill", the German newspaper FAZ (which seems to have devoted approximately 100 pages of newsprint to this topic in the last few weeks) has printed a comment by Durs Grünbein entitled "Plagiarism".

It was a puzzle for the readers, who quickly thought that the way of writing was so old-fashioned and remembered a piece by Gottfried Benn from 1926, also entitled "Plagiarism".

One wonders if the newspapers now think that plagiarism is okay, just as long as they tell us in the end who the real author might have been.

Update: The blog Dialog International has a nice translation of the meatist parts:
Gottfried Benn:
"Was heißt demgegenüber Entlehnung, was Plagiat oder Herkunft des Materiellen, man vergesse doch nicht, dass diese Begriffe in Sphären liegen, die ohne Raum und ohne Atem sind. Seit es Welten gibt, wo immer sich Reiche des Geistigen bildeten, gab es nur eine einzige Sphäre, in der alle Begriffe des Seelischen Maß und Halt, Verurteilung oder Rechtfertigung enthielten, die Sphäre des Schöpferischen, die Kunst."
(What, by contrast, constitutes borrowing, what is plagiarism or origin of the material. Lest we forget that these are terms in the spheres, which are breathless and space-less. Ever since worlds have existed, wherever spiritual realms were formed, there was only one sphere which contained all the terms of the spiritual dimension and support, condemnation or justification, the sphere of creativity, art.)

Das, was wir machen, ist eine Summierung aus den Dingen, die wir erleben, lesen, mitkriegen und träumen. Originalität gibt's sowieso nicht, nur Echtheit."
(What we do is the sum of the things that we experience, read, observe and dream. There is no originality, only authenticity.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

DFG: Quality, not Quantity

The German basic research funding agency DFG announced a decisive change for its application and reporting procedures on Feb. 23, 2010. They will no longer count the number of publications as a quality indicator.

Instead, researchers may only list up to 5 publications - their most important publications. No publications that have been submitted or are in preparation will be accepted, only published or accepted for publication papers are allowed. For reporting on grants or for research directly related to the current grant application, a maximum of two papers per grant year may be listed.

The new rules take effect in July 2010. The DFG states explicitly that they want to go against the trend to equate quantity with quality. They want referees to focus more on the project goals.

They note that the recent spate of academic misconduct cases were not the reason for them changing the rules. And they realize that it will be difficult for researchers to change how they write grant applications. But they feel that most scientists will learn the first time they get a grant rejected for putting too many publications on their C.V.

I heartily applaud the decision of the DFG and sent the press release to all of my colleagues. There has already been moaning - if publications aren't counted any more, the lazy people will now have another reason not to publish. This will certainly be a continued, interesting discussion in Germany.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another German Politician with Purchased Doctorate

Another German politician has been caught using a doctorate that he purchased. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports on Dieter Jasper, who sits in parliament for the ruling CDU party.

It seems that in 2004 he "obtained" a doctorate from the "Freien Universität Teufen" in Switzerland. He said that he chose this university because he "needed" a doctorate in order to take over his father's company and this one had an "easy" doctoral degree regulation (Promotionsordnung). One does indeed wonder how he found them, as they don't even have the pretense of a home page. If you google them, you find an advertising page for purchasing degrees and a link to a "European Acadamy".

He says that he wrote a dissertation - an analysis of his father's company. How convinient.

When all the talk about purchased titles came up, he hired a lawyer to check the validity of his title. But he continued using it, as there were elections running in September 2009 and that title just looks so nice. He won, by a hair.

A fellow parliamentarian, Mario Czaja, also from the CDU, was also recently discovered to have a "doctorate" from the same illustrious institution. He was forced to resign from the committee on science. Theoretically, Jasper could be fined or even spend up to a year in prison.

Bizarrely, these ads for companies that will help you purchase a doctorate were decorating the page of the Süddeutsche....
Maybe the SZ needs to have a closer look at their Google AdSense keywords.

(Thanks to Wolf for the pointer!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Philosopher from Belgium accused of plagiarism "disappears"

Here is a bizarre story from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. It seems that the well-known professor of philosophy, Martin Stone, was discovered to have extensively plagiarized the dissertation of a Finnish scholar who is currently a member of the Finnish Parliament. The title of the Finnish dissertation is Probability and Moral Uncertainty in late Medieval and Early Modern Times.

Upon investigation, many more plagiarisms in journal articles showed up. In the middle of the semester, Prof. Stone took a leave of absence from the school for personal reasons, and has now resigned from the University. All references to Stein have been erased from the school's web pages.

The school newspaper has an article about the case and an interview with the Finnish parliamentarian, Iikka Kantola.

Thanks to Erja Moore for the tip! Update 15.2.2013 to reflect that Stone is not Belgian.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More on the German Literary Plagiarism

My glory. Something is Happening in the German Literary Scene.

Every single media outlet in Germany has had something to say about the young author Helene Hegemann and her plagiarism. Most have been focusing on her youth, her hair, her famous father.  Thomas von Steinaecker has requested in the Börsenblatt that the reviewers leave the sensationalism and focus on the text. Is it literature? Is it a plagiarism? Does it matter?

The FAZ has been in overdrive. My FAZ-reading neighbors have collected 3 long articles this week alone on the topic. I don't really want to read them, but I suppose I'll have to sooner or later. The FAZ did land the coup of speaking with Airen, the author of the basis for the plagiarism, Strobo.

Airen wrote the blog anonymously, as an outlet for writing about the excesses he experienced on weekends in Berlin clubs. In real life he was a management consultant. I had been grubbing around, curious about him (or her?). The myspace page for Strobo, which was last visited just before Christmas last year, lists Airen as male, 28, Capricorn and living in Berlin. (So happy belated birthday!)

In the interview he reveals that he lived in Mexico for a year and a half and met a girl there that he married. I wonder how long he is really going to remain anonymous.

The FAZ also reports scouring Strobo, and finding that Airen, too, did some creative borrowing from Gottfried Benn, William Burroughs and Ernst Jünger. And that Hegemann's nomination for the Leipzig book prize still stands. This will be interesting if she wins.

Oh, and the publisher Piper notes that they removed Jens Lindner's "Döner for One" from the bookstores on account of it being a plagiarism of Janet Evanovichs 1996 book „Einmal ist keinmal“(Once is not enough). But they did this in December, already, before the current storm.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Berlin Bestseller Author Admits Plagiarism

The local Berlin news RBB reports that the 17-year-old wunderkind bestseller author of Axolotl Roadkill, Helene Hegemann, has admitted to plagiarism. The accusations were published by the Munich blogger Deef Pirmasen. (Interview with Deef Pirmasen in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the blog is sometimes not reachable).

Deef Pirmasen reports wondering how the author as a 16-year-old was able to get into the Berghain club, which is widely known for pitching out people who even appear to be a day younger than 21. And there were some words such as "Technoplastizität" that are not really in general use. He suddenly remembered the blogger Airen who had published a text "Strobo - Technoprosa aus dem Berghain" with the underground publisher SuKuLTur-Verlag.

The publisher, Ullstein Verlag, has put out her apologies quickly after the plagiarism accusations. She does, however, defend what she did:
"Das, was wir machen, ist eine Summierung aus den Dingen, die wir erleben, lesen, mitkriegen und träumen", schrieb Hegemann. "Originalität gibt's sowieso nicht, nur Echtheit." [What we do is the sum of the things that we experience, read, observe and dream. There is no originality, only reality.]
Ullstein is said to be trying to obtain a license to use the plagiarized materials from Airen.

Update: Prodded on by numerous journalists trying to interview me (and since I am proctoring a long exam, only the ones who can deal with email win this one), I note that this case of matching story plagiarism is a matching story to a case in the US. Harvard student and Wunderkind Kaavya Viswanathan published “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild,  and Got a Life,” which turned out to be extremely similar to Megan F. McCaffert's “Sloppy Firsts” (2001) and “Second Helpings” (2003). The Wikipedia entry has an extremely detailed table with the matches from the book which was withdrawn.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chinese Paper Mills and Plagiarism

I have previously reported on what I found to be "fake conferences" in China. Forschungsmafia has pointed me to an amazing, unsigned article at the China Internation Information Center.

Prof. Yang Shen (沈阳) of the School of Information Management at the Wuhan University has been working in the area of plagiarism for some time and has developed the ROST system for identifying possible plagiarisms. The team has also started doing empirical analysis on published sources with quite shocking results.

I found an article first published on the "Straits Times" (Singapore) about ghostwriting in English (via a republishing service) that also interviews a ghostwriting company that sees nothing wrong with the service. They quote a Mr. Liu:
'I don't see ghostwriting as unethical,' he said. 'People don't always have time to do everything by themselves, so sometimes they pay to get some help. There's nothing wrong with that.
I beg to differ.

I managed to contact Prof. Yang Shen, although many of the pages are in Chinese - Google Translator does a passable. It seems, though, that he has announced that he is now no longer doing plagiarism work, but data mining work, using a system (ROST) that he built to analyze English and Chinese texts. There was apparently some excitement when Nature managed to place a call....

Anyway, he kindly sent me a pre-print on his investigation. His team examined 57199 documents. The documents are classified as student-written, professor-written, or student-and-professor written. They are also sorted into fields, and for two fields - journalism and communications - a social web of the authors is constructed. The team also evaluated 450 questionnaires that were administered to Chinese Students.

The results are fascinating and quite detailed. Since he has not published it yet, I don't want to go into more details, but I have encouraged him to submit to a European conference on plagiarism.  I am happy that someone is starting to do something about Chinese plagiarism and ghostwriting.