Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review: Ghosting

Jenny Erdal: Ghosting. A Double Life. Canongate Books, Edinburgh. 2005. German translation: Die Ghostwriterin - Ich war sein Verstand und seine Stimme. Kiepenheuer, Berlin. 2008.

I was given this book a while ago, but have only now gotten around to reading it. It is the biography of Jennie Erdal, a Scottish writer who began translating Russian novels for Naim Attallah, the publisher of
Quartet Books. Over the years she began writing more and more for him, first preparing and then transcribing and editing interviews that he conducted, but finally also writing two novels that were published in his name only.

She describes the slow process by which her boss asks for just a little bit more, he himself still completely convinced that it is all his own work. She begins thinking of quitting after 15-16 years, but she has 3 kids, 2 in college, and a mortgage to pay. The job pays well, and she can work from home, so she continues to write for him, and puts up with his control-freak nature, at times calling her over 40 times a day.

She begins reflecting over what it is that she is doing and I find this paragraph about fraud to be extremely thoughtful. I quote the German version, as that is the one I have before me. A re-translation follows.
"Über den Betrug wird hingegen [im Gegensatz zu Selbstbetrug] sehr viel strenger geurteilt, was angesichts seiner Alltäglichkeit und Allgegenwart fast ebenso merkwürdig ist. Täuschung ist ein fester Bestandteil unseren Alltagslebens, angefangen bei dem höflichen Dank für etwas, das wir lieber von uns weisen würden, bis zur kalkuliertern Lüge, um eine Freundschaft zu erhalten. Sie ist eines unserer Mittel, sich in die Welt einzubringen, und es scheint fast, als hätten die Menschen eine besondere Begabung dafür. Wir betrügen einander, um unsere emotionalen Bindungen zu schützen, gleichzeitig binden wir uns emotional an abstrakte Ideen wie Ruhm oder Macht. Jene, die lügen oder betrügen, haben keine besonderen Kennzeichen; man kann es von außen nicht erkennen, sie sehen aus wie du und ich. Wir alle tragen Masken, einige Masken jedoch wiegen so schwer und werden so lange getragen, dass sie das Gesicht dahinter zu zerstören beginnen." (pp. 253-254)

On the other hand, fraud is judged much more strictly, which, given its ordinariness and ubiquity is almost as remarkable. Deception is an integral component of our everyday life, from the polite gratitude for something we would rather not have, to the calculated lie to keep a friendship. It is one of our resources for participating in the world, and it almost seems as if  people have a special talent for it. We betray each other to protect our emotional bonds, while we bind ourselves emotionally to abstract ideas such as fame or power. Those who lie or cheat bear no special marks, you can not see it from outside, they look like you and me. We all wear masks, but some masks weigh so hard and are borne for so long that they begin to destroy the face behind it. (Re-translation Google Translate and dww)
It is hard to quit, hard to say that a line has been crossed, that one cannot continue with this fraud. I'm sure that many researchers have experienced this same thing. First an assistant prepares some material. Then something is written by an assistant and rewritten by the researcher before publishing. Then under the pressure to publish more and more and more a text gets passed through without change, but the true author is kept hidden, and the researcher does not even find anything wrong with this.

Reading through the reviews there is an often mentioned aspect: here she is, taking his money for 20 years, and now she is betraying him! She is seen as somehow morally deficient for describing him in such intimate detail. She sees herself, however, as a sort of prostitute: From The Guardian, October 23, 2004:   
"Ghost-writing is not new. It might almost qualify as the oldest profession if prostitution had not laid prior claim. And there is more than a random connection between the two: they both operate in rather murky worlds, a fee is agreed in advance and given "for services rendered", and those who admit to being involved, either as client or service-provider, can expect negative reactions - anything from mild shock and disapproval to outright revulsion. A professor at my old university, a distinguished classicist with feminist leanings, was appalled when she heard what I did for a living and pronounced me "no better than a common whore". This - the whiff of whoredom - is perhaps the main reason why people opt for absolute discretion!
I found the book quite interesting, although I still do not understand why an intelligent woman would put up with him, much less with ghostwriting, for so long.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

German Professors Leave Professional Organization

Tagesspiegel reporter Hermann Horstkotte reports that a law professor from the Humboldt University in Berlin, Hans-Peter Schwintowski, has announced that he is leaving the German professional organization of university professors, the Deutscher Hochschulverband.

The reason is that the DHV is considering forcing him out, because his university found that his book Juristischen Methodenlehre did not properly quote the sources used.The DHV feels that this is incompatible with their professional honor code. Schwintowski insists that this was just an oversight that has probably happened to every member of the organization.

Another law professor, Axel Wirth, an expert on building law from the TU Darmstadt, has also announced that he will leave the organization as it is also considering forcing him out because of a commentary that he published under his own name that one of his assistants had secretly plagiarized from another source. Wirth complains that with the organization acting in this way, they are not giving the professors in question their constitutional right of re-socialization after having been found guilty of an offence.

Harvard Professor Guilty of Scientific Misconduct

Kate Shaw writes at arstechnica:
"After a three-year internal investigation by Harvard University, animal cognition researcher Marc Hauser has been found 'solely responsible' for eight counts of scientific misconduct. Since its beginning, the matter has been shrouded in secrecy, with Hauser admitting only to certain 'mistakes.' However, Hauser is now on a one-year leave of absence from Harvard, and in response to the investigation’s findings, the University's Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has vowed to 'determine the sanctions that are appropriate.'" (more)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Articles withdrawn from Open Access Database

I just ran across an article from 2007 about, one of the many Open Access databases, that withdrew 65 papers on General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology by 14 Turkish authors on the basis of the papers containing plagiarized material. One of the authors, a grad student at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, was listed on 40 (!) of the papers.

The papers in question are replaced with a reference that they are plagiarized and the true sources are given. This is extremely important - don't just remove without a trace, but leave a note both of who the plagiarist was and the true source, in case any of the plagiarized versions are referenced elsewhere.

This is one of the advantages of online Open Access - in a printed journal, the retraction appears sometime later. Online, the reference itself can be replaced with the retraction notice, giving credit to the original authors.

Japanese Plagiarism and Misrepresentation Case

A Japanese correspondent has alerted me to the strange case of Serkan Anilir.  He is a German-born researcher of Turkish descent who was said to be an Assistant Professor at the Department of Architecture, Graduate School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo.

He has an impressive biography - but depending on which language you are reading (English, Japanese or Turkish) it is different. He claims to be a Turkish astronaut candidate for NASA, but closer inspection will show that this is his head photoshopped onto the body of Richard Hieb.

He has had "guest professorships" all over the world, according to the list is on the Turkish Wikipedia (translated here). It appears that he gave talks at these schools, but not that he had guest professorships. He is not listed in the official researchers lists for projects he supposedly worked on.

His publication list has a number of anomalies: wrong publisher; long article in a journal that only prints short ones; an examination of a given journal issue shows no article with that name; one publication can be found with the same name and co-author, but not with his name on it.

He also claims to be an Olympic gold medalist in skiing. However, there is no record of this.

Asahi Shinbum, a respected Japanese newspaper, picked this up and reported that they checked his reference that was supposed to be from the Turkish Air Force, but they denied that it was from them.

When things got hot in the Japanese press, an investigation into his dissertation was started. Since it turned out to be more than  40% plagiarized (later reports: 59%) the University of Tokyo revoked his doctorate in March of 2010 (press release in Japanese translated by Google) - the first time in the history of the university that they have done such a thing!

In the aftermath, his talk at TEDxTaipei in Taiwan and other places were mysteriously canceled. It is a shame that they were not open about this. He is no longer listed as a professor at the University of Tokyo. And the university has announced a crackdown on plagiarism.

Nice to hear of a success story, even if it did take 10 years!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

But that's just how we do it!

Over a round of "Friday beers" in a European capital, a group of researchers gathered who happened to be from four different fields and worked in three different European countries. We got into a plagiarism discussion, and I found there were some disturbing observations made:
  • The chemist noted that it is normal for the PI to put his/her name on any papers written in their lab. Not always do they read the papers before submitting them.
  • The chemist also noted that the last paper which was sent to the PI had three authors on it, the two doing the research and the PI. When it was returned it had four names on it - and neither researcher knew the fourth one. They questioned the PI, who responded: Oh, that's a former postdoc of mine. He's applying for a professorship in X and needs some more publications.
  • The chemist had a previous PI in a previous lab in another European country. Here a big-shot American researcher was added to a paper to "insure" that it would be accepted for Nature. Needless to say, this researcher had neither done the research, nor written or even read the paper.
  • The political scientist started into citation indices and how important they were for their field. Of particular importance is the number of quotations you get within two years of publication. The historian grumbled that it would be lovely to get papers published within two years of writing them, and having anyone read them and maybe one person publish a review within two years would be wonderful, but nothing will get cited within that time frame.
  • The computer scientist noted that conference papers are more important than journal articles in her field, much to the shock of the chemist.
From this brief, non-scientific exchange we can gather that honorary authorship is normal in some sciences, and citation metrics don't really help tell how productive a researcher is. The chemist noted that the post-docs don't like these extra names on their papers, but they don't feel that they can say anything or they will anger the PI and endanger their careers.

What can be done to get rid of "honorary authorship"? Or should we just accept it as the way things are done in some fields? 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Swiss court affirms: Plagiarism is not allowed

The Neue Züricher Zeitung reports that the Swiss Federal Administrative Court has upheld the decision of the national examination board (Schweizerische Maturitätskommission) regarding the exclusion of a student from the final exams for his high school diploma (Matura) on the basis of plagiarism in his thesis work.

The student from Waadtland had used the Wikipedia and other Internet sources word-for-word in his thesis without referencing them. He had previously been warned by a teacher that it was necessary to reference Internet sources. It is also stated clearly in the rules for the thesis that it must be written by the student alone.

The student was also fined 500 Swiss Franks and must pay lawyer and court costs.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Plagiarism Softwaretest 2010

I am happy to announce that we are, indeed, continuing to test so-called plagiarism detection systems. Last year we moved offices to a new campus, so there was no time to deal with research. But I again have a student researcher to help this summer.

We have developed 10 new test cases, this time in English. They include some "normal" plagiarism, some with European characters sprinkled in, an original, one that contains program source code in Perl, a translation from the French Wikipedia to English, a longish passage from a Google books, and an extensively rewritten version of a text from the Project Gutenberg.

We have identified 44 (!) plagiarism detection systems, with more showing up in blogspam every day. We are not sure that we will be able to test them all, but we will be giving it a good try. I have applied to extend the funding so that we can try as many as we can, and also do our write up in English and in German.

The current list:
  • AntiCutAndPaste
  • AntiPlag
  • AntiPlagiarist
  • ArticleChecker
  • Attributor
  • Blackboard / SafeAssign
  • BOSS 2
  • CatchItFirst
  • CodeSuite
  • CopyCatch Gold
  • CopyScape free edition
  • CopyScape Premium Edition
  • CopyrightSpot
  • Doc Cop
  • Docoloc
  • Ephorus
  • Eve2
  • FairShare (von Attributor)
  • GenuineText
  • iPlagiarismCheck /checkforplagiarism
  • JPlag
  • Kopi Protection
  • MOSS
  • Picapica
  • PlagAware
  • Plagiarism Detector
  • Plagiarism-Finder
  • Plagiarisma
  • PlagiarismAnalyzer
  • plagium
  • PlagScan
  • ProfNet / PlagiatService
  • StrikePlagiarism
  • TextGuard
  • Turnitin
  • The Plagiarism Checker
  • Urkund
  • WCopyfind
The criteria are more quantified than they were before, and we have a detailed usability test included. We also insist on being able to find a proper real world address for the companies and get a response to our emails that is not generated by a robot. 

We started testing last week and noticed that many of our first test cases now come through clean because the sources that we plagiarized from are no longer available online. However, Bing has taken copies of our first group of test cases, so we have to exclude these from the results. We look forward to seeing how the systems have changed!

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Book Forbidden

I owe this blog at least two book reports that I have not gotten around to on account of semester pressures. I'll take them one at a time.

The German law professor Volker Rieble published a thin blue book entitled "Das Wissenschaftsplagiat - Vom Versagen eines Systems" in April of this year. It is fascinating in that it names names. I ordered my copy immediately, fearing that it would be removed from the market. And so it has happened - a court injunction has forced the book out of print, effectively forbidding it. The publisher, Vittorio E. Klostermann writes:
Two law professors who were named in Volker Rieble's book and whom he criticized on their citation methods, have obtained an injunction from the Hamburg regional court (Landgericht) against this publisher. We are not allowed to publish certain passages from the book. The currently bound and sold copies of the book are, however, not included in the injunction. This has made it easier for this publisher to forgo an expensive legal battle and to accept the injunction as the final legal arrangement. 

As I am not a lawyer, I do not want to discuss the subtle points of law that both of the plaintiffs brought forth to establish their cases. Why the court decided the way they did is not known, because an injunction does not come with justification. I have learned that a German court can forbid a statement without giving a reason. I don't find this a good thing. It would have been useful if the Hamburg judges had at least given a brief sketch of their reasoning. Then we would know if they had read the book, or only the passages in question, and how the judges interpret the passages in the context of the book.

I decided to publish Volker Rieble's book because I found his concern to be important - pointing out problematic conventions in the scientific community. His goal is scholarly honesty: Not (only) plain-old plagiarism, but also the bad habit of using other people's intellectual property without properly identifying the author is problematic. For the various practices of this kind he introduced the term "Wissenschaftsplagiat", scholarly plagiarism, and used it in the title of his book. He explains this thoroughly from page 80 onwards. 

The debate about the things Rieble writes about does not belong in court, but in the glaring light of the professional scholarly public. That the scientific discussion that we are attempting to further in publishing our books could be gagged under threat of punitive action has happened for the first time in the 80 years of the existence of this publishing house.

But we have known, at least since the FAZ reported on June 2, 2010 about the Weigend review of the book by Calvo-Goller about the International Criminal Court (the Chronicle reported in English), that scholarly free speech is threatened.
Many of the cases Rieble discusses are, of course, from the area of law. Many of these cases were new to me, and I am thankful for the good footnotes that he uses to document the cases. My only quarrel is that he has a bizarre bit at the end where he finds Open Access to be responsible for the increase of plagiarism, something I cannot follow. Open Access helps us to better find those guilty of plagarism! The texts are open, dated, and the authorship is clear. I think we need more Open Access and not less. I have an essay on this topic that will be published the end of 2010, more on this later.

It is sad to see academic discourse being subjected to the vagaries of legal decisions.