Saturday, June 11, 2011

Plagiarism Found by Chance

The Münsterländische Volkszeitung reports on a strange case of plagiarism. An author for the German version of the Wikipedia was cleaning up the article on prostate cancer and looking for a serious source for one statement. Doctoral theses are great places to find these, as proper disserations include an overview of the current literature on the topic.

As the author describes in the Wikipedia Kurier from May 28, 2011, while looking through the dissertation from 2006 a term showed up that was quite unfamiliar, although the author had been researching the topic for a while. A source was given, from 1996, but not feeling like going to the library, the Wikipedia author just asked the "omniscient garbage can" about the term - and found a few hits.

One was a dissertation from 2009 - from the same department of the same university. The author downloaded it, and started reading, and it was déjà vu all over again, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra. The author thought that perhaps the links had been mixed up. But no, they had different authors, different years, but even the same advisor.

But Diss 2009 had been slightly changed. For example, 2009 discovered that one source in 2006 was included in the bibliography twice by mistake - it was removed and the references renumbered. Even large portions of the acknowledgments are identical. The CVs are, however, different.

The University of Münster was informed in March, the committees are working, there is no word yet on their decision. These kinds of cases tend to be very hush-hush, just in case the charge of plagiarism is being lodged just to throw dirt at someone. If I hear of a result I will report it here.

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