Saturday, September 24, 2011

VroniPlag - the next cases

Goodness, you get busy with something else, and the VroniPlag count has again been upped. The new kids on the block are:
  • Case 11: Arne Heller, a lawyer in Hamburg, submitted a dissertation on managing boards. He is currently applying for a habilitation, the second doctorate necessary for a university professorship in Germany. There was a nasty spat that ensued over an article in Die Zeit accusing VroniPlag of letting itself be instrumentalized by unknown persons from the University of Hamburg using VroniPlag to subvert the habilitation process. Heller has, however, already passed Chatzimarkakis with the amount of plagiarism (72% of the pages) and is not too far behind the gold standard, zu Guttenberg (94% of the pages). Many VroniPlag activists joined the fight on the comments page, which run to 39 pages at the time this blog post is being written.
  • Case 12: Martin Winkels submitted a dissertation on the Ostpolitik that has plagiarism on 24% of the pages. Since he is neither a politician or well known, there was a longish discussion about whether the name should be made public or not. The VroniPlag group voted that since a thesis is published, it is fair to discuss it and its author. The vote was not unanimous, however.
  • Case 13: Daniel Volk, Member of the German Parliament for the FDP. His thesis on international law is currently at just over 20% of the pages plagiarized. He insists to the press that nothing is wrong with his dissertation.
It is also encouraging to see the activity that is starting in the fall term:
  • The Charité is holdling a symposium in Berlin on October 7, 2011: "Responsible conduct of research in academic medicine: From neglect to action plan" 
  • The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung will be holding a conference on October 11, 2011 about quality assurance at university that is said to be streamed on "Plagiatsfälle in der Wissenschaft -Wie lässt sich Qualitätssicherung an Hochschulen verbessern?"
  • The DFG is said to be having a conference the end of November, I don't have a prospectus yet.
  • I have been invited to speak at many gatherings, and have been asked to attend a parliamentary committee meeting as an expert witness. Both the Green party and the SPD have prepared motions about academic misconduct that they are planning on presenting to parliament. 
I will try and report on as many of these as possible so that non-German speakers can see what is happening. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

German Libraries Avoiding Fake Publishers

This blog has reported a number of times on what I term fake or write-only publishers (1 - 2 - 3). I am happy to report that German university libraries are fighting back - they are trying to avoid purchasing expensive rubbish.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that after some libraries realized that they were purchasing printed copies of material from the Wikipeida or dodgy bachelor's theses at outrageous prices, they have begun only purchasing the books - often badly produced print-on-demand volumes - with the possibility of returning the book. And they are keeping lists of the subpublishers that are springing up to disguise who is really behind the publishers. If a book is to be ordered from such a publisher, the librarians are asking back if the person ordering the book is aware of the common practices of these publishers.

There is a long list of publishers that engage in practices like this:
  • Verlag VDM (Verlag Dr. Müller),  Saarbrücken
    • Alphascript Publishing 
    • Betascript Publishing
    • Doyen Verlag
    • Verlag Classic Edition
    • Südwestdeutscher Verlag für Hochschulschriften
    • Lambert Academic Publishing
  • (General)Books LLC
  • Bucher LLC
  • GRIN-Verlag
There are a lot of good sources online about these publishers (these are mostly in German):

VDM and their imprints:

(General) Books LLC and Bucher LLC
 Hopefully, more and more libraries will realize that these are not legitimate publishers, and quit ordering books from them.

Thanks to C.W. for the linklist!

Schön loses his Dr. for good

The Stuttgarter Zeitung (via dpa) reports that Jan Hendrik Schön has lost his Dr. for good.

Schön, a physicist and shooting star in research, was awarded a doctorate 1998 from the University of Konstanz in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. He moved to a large research organization (Bell Labs) in the US and began producing amazing results in the area of nanotechnolgy - at times publishing one paper every 8 days. 17 papers were published in Science and Nature,  before it was discovered that he was fabricating data.

A number of researchers became suspicious about the exactness of his measurements in 2001, in 2002 Bell Labs started an internal investigation. They determined that at least 16 papers were based on fabricated data, and fired him on the spot. Prized that had been awarded him were revoked, and co-authors withdrew some of the papers. Science withdrew 8, Nature 7 of his publications. (The papers are listed in the Wikipedia article linking his name)

The University of Konstanz was so angered by this - and the ensuing public debate about scientific misconduct - that his doctorate was revoked in 2004. It was not revoked on the grounds that his doctorate was false, but on the basis of a state law that provides for revocation on grounds of "dishonorable conduct". There was some controversy about his, because the law was used in the Third Reich to strip doctorates from Jewish scientists.

Schön sued the university and won, and the university appealed to the state court. They overturned the ruling of the lower court, and since this is a state law, no appeal to the federal court is possible. The doctorate remains rescinded.

It was a long, long process, but it is good to know that the courts are upholding decisions taken by the universities. It will be interesting to see if this has any relevance for the other cases in which doctorates were rescinded on the basis of plagiarism, and the former doctorate holders suing the universities.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Research Cloning

The German business daily newspaper Handelsblatt reports on the case of Bruno Frey, a well-known economics professor in Zürich. There had been a bit of fuss in July when colleagues discovered that he had published four papers about the sinking of the Titanic with co-authors Benno Torgler and David Savage without mentioning that pretty much the same papers had already been published elsewhere. The texts were not identical, but the research was, and each paper suggests that it is the only one presenting the results.

The "Journal of Economic Perspectives" (JEP) has formally censured him, the "Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization" (JEBO) has blacklisted the authors and will not accept any further papers from them. Frey and Torgler have said that Savage is not at fault and have tendered excuses at 3 of the 4 journals [German language detail: The article says that they "excused themselves", I always thought you had to ask the other party to excuse you --dww]. Apparently, Frey had not gotten around to writing to the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS) before the Handelsblatt  started its investigations.

The whole issue seems to have started with the blog Economic Logic and an entry entitled "On the ethics of research cloning". The author of the blog had a good look at the CVs of the senior authors and finds evidence both of slicing results very thin in order to get much publication mileage out of them, as well as republishing the same results multiple times. In the comments a number of other clones showed up, and a FreyPlagWiki (the currently popular German way to collect evidence on scientific misconduct and plagiarism) was set up.

Interesting things have popped up, such as Frey exempting his doctoral students from coursework now required by the University in Zürich, or his being dropped from an editorial board without explaination, according to a followup blog entry.

The Handelsblatt author Olaf Storbeck has set up a Google Table documenting the cloning in 5 papers - it would be great if this and FreyPlagWiki were unified. It is a wiki, after all.

Update: "Ich habe mich zu wenig selbst zitiert"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Open Discourse

Andrew I Dayton notes in Retrovirology 2006, 3:55 doi:10.1186/1742-4690-3-55 that online journal clubs are springing up for debating papers before they are published (hopefully in an Open Access journal). He discusses, which is primarily concerned with medical fields, as well as a few others. I do think that this is the way science must go!